A presentation delivered at AEJMC 2014, this provides a brief history of fact-checking, and looks at its evolution as a form of journalism. It also offers some guidance on the importance of verification, and why it needs to be taught.
The Origins and Evolution of Fact-Checking, and The New Urgency of Verification
From Fact-Checking to
Editor, Regret the Error, Poynter
Editor, Verification Handbook
In The Beginning: Magazine Fact-
“Any bright girl who really applies herself to the
handling of the checking problem can have a
very pleasant time with it and fill the week
with happy moments and memorable
occasions” — Edward Kennedy, Time (1920s)
30s to 70s
• New Yorker, Esquire, New York, The Atlantic,
Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek etc. add checking
• Closed process.
• Job is a stepping stone.
“I knew nobody would notice the difference. But
there’s a certain aesthetic pleasure in just
knowing it’s correct.”
Decline of Checking
• Newsweek eliminates checkers, 1996
• Fortune, 1997
• Cutbacks and outsourcing
• Accuracy in Media, 1969
• FAIR, 1986
• Media Research Center, 1987 (NewsBusters)
• Honest Reporting (2000),
• CAMERA (1982)
• Media Matters for America, 2004
Rise of Political Fact-Checking
• FactCheck.org, 1993
• PolitiFact, 2007
Today: Over 40 active fact-checking sites.
“Fact-checking is a relatively new form of
journalism in which reporters research the
accuracy of statements by politicians. In the
past, fact-checking was primarily done on
political ads, but it’s been expanded to any
kind of statement — speeches, interviews,
press releases, even tweets.”
— Bill Adair founder of PolitiFact
Verification employs a mix of three factors:
1. A person’s resourcefulness, persistence,
skepticism and skill.
2. Sources’ knowledge, reliability and honesty, and
the number, variety and reliability of sources you
can consult/talk to.
Source: Steve Buttry, Verification Handbook
• Assume it’s not true.
• Separate emotion and motivation from work.
• Identify and investigate the original source — and
• Confirm date and time.
• Confirm content of the information.
• Research similar events, content.
• Speak to additional sources. “How do you know
• Triangulate all collected information.
• Use tools when possible, but not just tools.
• Coming soon: six free videos on verification,
more case studies.
• Citizen Evidence
• Regret the Error
• Complete our survey:
• What are you teaching about verification and
fact-checking? What works?
• Why isn’t it being taught?
• What can we create to help you teach the
discipline of verification?