Does fact-checking lend credibility to journalism?

2012-10-22T00:00:00Z Does fact-checking lend credibility to journalism? Arizona Daily Star
October 22, 2012 12:00 am

Journalists who verify the assertions of public officials are doing their jobs and supporting democracy. Seems like a well-worn truism, right?

Not. This column joins a firestorm of comment on "the goddamn fact-checking thing."

That's how former New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane reminisced about his role in the fact-checking fracas in a recent interview with Poynter.org

A public editor column by Brisbane went viral at the start of the year, in part because of its quirky request: "I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers."

Press and political blogs lit up in response, answering Brisbane with what seemed like a murmuring "huh?" followed mostly by indignation.

That was just one of many quibbles with what has lately been dubbed the "fact-checking movement" and the "golden age of fact-checking."

Curiously, what everyone is calling "fact-checking" isn't new. Fact-checking has always been fundamental to professional news work. Ask any veteran newsroom copy editor.

However, fact-checking does come with a twist today: computational power. Politifact.com, FactCheck.org, and their in-house newsroom cohorts are using powerful, new computer-assisted analytical and visualization software.

Today's fact-checking is teasing out new norms, such as the recent emphasis on transparency and engagement.

It's no secret that newsrooms need to cultivate new norms. American attitudes toward the news media have sunk to record lows this election season.

Today's news consumers aren't averse to fact-based, statistically corroborated reporting.

Gone are the days of monolithic news media with a monopoly on the truth. New technologies - for better and worse - have enabled just about anyone to discover, create, share, personalize and react to news.

Today's news consumers have gravitated to "news with a view" because it affirms personal values. In an era of information overload and complexity, news with a view can be clarifying and familiar.

Sure, it may come with high-octane, unverified assertions, but it's perceived as credible because it comes with an unapologetic view, a person, a Sean Hannity, a Rachel Maddow.

In the short run, aggressive, transparent, data-driven political fact-checking may only earn more haters. It may scare off timid advertisers.

In the long run, it will help rouse reporters and reporting processes from sequestered newsrooms. It will lead to the defending of old news values that are worth saving and to the invention of pertinent new ones that no one has thought of yet.

That trust will be needed when "social media fact-checking" kicks into high gear.

Yes: Finding truth an old news value

Editor's note

Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service to give readers a broad view of issues.

Hans Peter Ibold is an assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University. Write him at Ernie Pyle Hall, 940 E. Seventh St., Bloomington, Ind. 47405-7108.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Latest Fitz Report video

More

Fitz studio: How to draw the President

In this video tutorial, Star cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons teaches you how to draw the Preside…

Latest Newsmakers video

More

Dr. Peter Rhee on mental health

Dr. Peter Rhee discusses mental health and other issues surrounding gun violence.

Deals, offers & events

View more...