FACT CHECKING AND FACT CHECKERS :
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Magazines Find there’s Little Time To Fact-Check Online
Magazines Find there’s Little Time To Fact-Check Online
By Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin and Susan Currie Sivek
March 23, 2017
Columbia Journalism Review
Days after Kellyanne Conway uttered the now-infamous phrase alternative facts during a TV interview, Mother Jones magazine launched a new product in its online store: a T-shirt bearing that phrase, but with alternative boldly struck out in red, celebrating the magazines commitment to publishing only real facts.
Most great magazines share that commitment; the medium actually created contemporary fact-checking practices. But theres a rumbling at the ground zero of journalistic fact-checking: Magazines are struggling to maintain in their online content the rigor historically applied to that practice in print.
Its easy to understand why. Publications that once had leisurely monthly production schedules are now producing content on multiple platforms at a breaking-news pace. Fact-checking departments charged with laborious re-reporting of print stories have neither the time nor the personnel for giving the same thorough treatment to online content. As a result, one of the fundamental routines of magazine journalismfastidious fact-checking prior to publicationis changing with the times.
Maddie Oatman, story editor for Mother Jones, was the research editor (in charge of fact-checking) for five years. Under her direction, a team of fact-checkers took every story apart and tracked down all the primary sources to verify everything from the smallest details to the largest conclusions based on them. Weve long been recognized as one of the premier places for fact-checking, kind of by design and necessity, Oatman says. Fact-checking has been an important way for us to feel empowered to write about things that are going to potentially anger certain powerful people. And, she adds, it builds trust with readers.
To accomplish this, Mother Jones trains researchers (who come to the magazine with research or journalism backgrounds) to perform intensive fact-checking. The fact-checking kind of serves two purposes for us, she says. Its not just to strengthen our investigative reporting, but its also to strengthen the education of todays emerging journalists. The Nation, too, sees training fact-checkers as an investment in the future of journalism. It seems incredibly important to me that the people reading your publication have confidence in its accuracy, which is why weve put so much time and resources into developing a program that trains future fact-checkers and journalists, says The Nations Deputy Managing Editor, Kate Murphy.
But what happens online, where theres no time for this process? In our conversations with research editors at more than a dozen award-winning national and regional magazines, we found this same pattern: Print gets the full-on fact-checking process; online content gets at most a spot-check.
Magazine editors compare their online fact-checking and corrections processes to the fact-checking performed by newspapers. And rightly so. The New York Times public editor, Liz Spayd, might well have been describing magazines online when she wrote: Newspaper people try to get everything right, but given that they are human beings writing and editing huge amounts of copy on unforgiving deadlines, often they dont. A terrific example of this is Slates correction page, with its lists of self-described mistakes each week.
Magazines, which now publish on a newspaper-like schedule, would like to avoid creating similar rafts of corrections on a daily or weekly basis. Its caused us to have to think more on a case-by-case basis about which stories merit our full-on, primary source-based process, Oatman says. News commentary pieces, for example, get express fact-checkinga check of names, numbers, titles and timelinesbefore they are posted online. Content that is legally sensitive gets a more thorough check. We have an internal process for making sure to stop those and to slow things down when we need to, Oatman says.
Wired, another publication with a storied reputation for fastidious fact-checking, has a similar strategy for checking stories in print, says Deputy Managing Editor Joanna Pearlstein. Its important to us that we back up every assertion that we make with a source and that we feel good about that source. The reporters Wired hires as fact-checkers go over each story line by line, underlining and verifying facts with the use of transcripts, recordings, data, and other primary sources, and watching for errors of interpretation and missed lines of inquiry. Its definitely a re-reporting process, she says.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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