Some recent commentaries and articles on journalism have focused on fact-checking, a skill and task that should be taken seriously by professional and citizen journalists alike.
Let’s start with a Jan. 8, 2011, column by Arthur Brisbane, The New York Times’ public editor, who noted that The Times corrected 3,500 errors in 2010, most of which were errors in spellings, dates and historical facts.
Some of these errors were attributed to rushing on deadline, failing to check facts and misreading notes. Many of the errors, however, were attributed to “Googling a name and taking the spelling – or historical fact – as gospel.”
Many people rely on Google for basic information, but few realize the information that appears from a Google search could be inaccurate. They don’t even look at the information in a skeptical way.
In training citizen journalists, I always tell them that Google is a starting point – and only that. Just because information is found on the Internet does not mean it is true. All facts found through Google should be double-checked.
A second interesting example of fact-checking came from an article posted Jan. 25, 2011, by Newley Purnell, an American journalist in Thailand, who wrote about Associated Press reporter Thanyarat Doksone.
According to Purnell’s report, Doksone read a Twitter report from a Thai radio station saying that Bangkok’s anti-government, red-shirt protests last April and May had spread to the Asoke area of the Thai capital.
Rather than taking the Tweet as the gospel, Doksone decided to double-check the report.
Since she was in a different part of town, she took the extra step of asking her Twitter “followers” if they could confirm what had been reported. One of her followers who was in the area responded that “all was quiet and even posted an image to prove that there was no unrest of note,” Purnell wrote.
I guess both stories show the ups and downs of reporting in this technological age. You can’t always trust what you find on the Internet or on Twitter, but you can use those same tools to begin your research and/or to double-check what has been reported.
Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (http://nacj.us/) and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/).