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Fact-Checking Policy

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

How does your publication handle fact-checking?

By Denise Gable

This month’s topic was prompted by the wide-spread media reports that falsely reported Congresswoman Giffords had been killed. As non-fiction writers and editors, we want readers to trust what they read in our publication. If they don’t, they may go elsewhere. But, with tight deadlines and limited budgets for dedicated fact-checkers, many mistakes can go unseen until they are in print. By then, our credibility has been tarnished. So, how do publications go about making sure what they say is the truth and that all the facts are correct?

Go magazine, published by Ink Publishing
Frequency: Monthly
Description: AirTran Airways’ onboard magazine provides an excellent marketing opportunity for America’s top businesses. Go is full of engaging articles, essential product information, fabulous vacation ideas and an extensive business section.

Brooke Porter, managing editor, “Before we fact check, we get a list from the writer that includes all of the sources they used or spoke to. We print out the story, highlight all of the facts, and verify them one by one directly with the source or using outside research when necessary (like for historical facts), checking them off once they’ve been verified as true or changing them if something is incorrect. Since we are a travel magazine, many times we are checking directly with an institution’s public relations contact, like a museum or restaurant.

“The only bad story I have is asking a PR person at a museum to verify some facts, only to find out after we went to print that something was wrong, This is why it’s important to also use other sources for certain types of facts.”

PrintWear magazine, published by NBM, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly
Description: PrintWear magazine covers every aspect and technology relevant to the business of apparel decoration. Offering tips, tricks, step-by-step tutorials and other insights from seasoned industry professionals, each month covers disciplines of embroidery, screen printing, heat-applied graphics and direct printing, and trends in apparel and promotional products.

Emily Andre, editor, “We use traditional methods of fact-checking (cross referencing between sources, confirming with industry associations and other authorities, etc.) but since our reporting is mainly technical in nature, the most valuable resource to me in this capacity is my network of industry experts. These members of my unofficial board are on my speed dial. Any time something questionable or controversial comes across my desk, I get on the phone or on email and have had some really interesting conversations as a result. These often lead to other topic ideas, or are used to spark a debate on our LinkedIn group. Knowing the dynamics of the industry also helps me to recognize a good counterbalance, where I can make two phone calls on one issue to find the middle ground/truth. I've definitely fielded some less than even-tempered calls after publishing something that should have been investigated more thoroughly. But those were actually huge opportunities for me -- both to practice my grace as well as to expand my network. You quickly discover who is paying attention and who really knows what they're talking about when you publish something questionable. Not that I recommend that as a method to establishing contacts.

“Establishing these relationships and having such conversations has also eliminated fact-checking in certain circumstances, where I have become so intimate in the processes we report on that I can dismiss or confirm certain data off the top of my head. As a bonus, I'm always in on industry gossip and have actually established a personal relationship with many of my contributors.

“One other note on preventative measures: I find it essential to do thorough background research on any of my new contributors. Asking around, discovering their industry history and revealing potential biases has been huge to me as a preliminary to fact checking.”

EE Times, published by United Business Media, LLC
Frequency: Online, unspecified

George Leopold, U.S news director, “The reality is that editorial staff cuts place a greater onus on reporters in the field to check and double check facts in stories. Then, embattled story and production editors must, as always, look for inconsistencies and unsubstantiated claims in stories and circle back to reporters (who of course want to move on to the next story) to nail down a fact or an assertion in a story. Anything controversial of course requires independent confirmation from a second source.

“The decline in media accuracy is driven by the reality that reporters often post their own stories so as not to be beaten to the punch by competitors. There is a ‘better to be first than accurate’ mentality out there.

“In short, there is virtually no time for reporters and editors to think and reflect, only to react. This is a bad way to inform the citizenry, and will only get worse as bean counters squeeze editorial operations. That's why we, and many others, have adopted a pay model so that our "content" will generate the revenue needed to sustain our reporting staff.”

Additional Comments

“We don't have dedicated fact checkers, and in fact never have. We put the onus on the reporter to do what it takes to get it right, with the editor(s) serving as an additional gatekeeper.” --David Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto.com

“We do peer review with two reviewers, one editor, and an editor-in-chief.” --Hans IJzerman, founding editor, In-Mind magazine

“Fact checking is largely on the shoulders of the reporters. We don't have a separate fact checking process other than the standard editing/copy editing process.” --John Dix, editor-in-chief, Network World

“We rely on the expertise of our editors to make sure that all information is correct before publication. Each article is read by at least three editors with various, complementary skill sets and technical/professional backgrounds (and one of the editors is specifically a technical editor). We are also trained in the art of discovering plagiarism.” --Doug Peckenpaugh, managing editor, Food Product Design

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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"We do our best to fact-check because our writers and editors have domain expertise, but so does our readership, and we hear about it when we're wrong. We use multiple readers, and if anything sounds 'unproven' or 'off' we do a detailed fact check." --Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief, Control and ControlGlobal.com.

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