At the nonprofit and nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, accuracy is something we think about all the time. An integral step in our process happens after a reporter finishes a story but before the story reaches our readers’ eyes: fact-checking.
Every report we produce goes through a rigorous review. Managing Editor Dee J. Hall, or another fact-checker, typically spends between eight and 12 hours with the reporter verifying each and every word. Tack on the time it takes to vet multimedia elements, and we spend at least two full days scrutinizing each major package we distribute.
We believe it is time well spent.
“We’re in the information and fact business,” Hall said. “It is up to individual news editors to choose to run our stories, and they have to be able to trust us.”
Because even a minor fact error like a misspelled name could undermine the Center’s credibility, we take every measure we can to report with accuracy.
For each individual fact — a name or age, a report’s title, a summary of events, a quote or even an impression — the reporter must produce evidence of it from a reliable source. On a printed copy of the story, the fact-checker numbers the fact, while the reporter shows and marks its supporting evidence, which is also printed.
It is a version of a system graciously shared in 2009 by our colleagues at the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity — one we adopted to improve the accuracy of our journalism after two of our earliest reports contained mistakes.
Every fact-check reveals the need for additional editing to enhance clarity. Hall and the reporter also consider whether a story covers a topic fully and fairly.
“There are times during the fact-checking process where you identify gaps in the reporting,” Hall said. “Let’s say a fact you thought was correct is actually off, what else does that mean?”
It is not unusual for a reporter to be sent to do additional reporting after the first review.
In the end, every story has a thick paper file of fact-checking materials which can be easily referenced and reviewed.
Future journalists trained in fact-checking
In addition to producing high-quality journalism, another key part of our mission is training current and future journalists. We aim to instill our obsession with accuracy in them, too.
In 2016 we began working with The Observatory, a student fact-checking outlet founded by Michael Wagner and Lucas Graves, faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. We assist in fact-checking every story The Observatory publishes.
This page was excerpted from a longer article by Center reporter Cara Lombardo: We take facts seriously at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Here’s why.
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