“If your mother says she loves you…check it out.”
A cardinal rule in journalism. But, the importance of this rule is increasingly lost among local, national and even international media. In the last few years, newsrooms have lost funding and cut jobs–and fact checkers are typically the first to go.
If history is any indication, sustaining a reputable, ethically responsible publication requires fact checking at the most basic level. Famous incidents where fact checking was thrown by the wayside (i.e. Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke) have disrupted lives and disgusted readers.
I spent the majority of my summer working as a fact checker for Orange Coast Magazine. As I called and emailed sources, scoured the Internet and researched records to check everything from dates to names to the cross streets of a statue, I realized I was helping to maintain the journalistic integrity of Orange Coast Magazine. And that’s important.
The Society of Professional Journalists has made it clear that the duty of journalists is to provide information in “an accurate, comprehensive, timely, and understandable manner.” The group states one of its most fundamental ethical codes – “Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.” So why is fact checking often regarded as negligent?
Fact checking books is often vetted as a different beast entirely. This Atlantic article discusses the major implications (and one former incident involving New York Times writer, Nicholas Kristof, heavily endorsing a memoir that was later deemed fiction) of publishing houses ignoring the process of fact checking and what that means for the rest of us.