It is extremely important to fact-check PR material.

The importance of fact-checking PR material: Tools and tips for accuracy

June 1, 2020

Fewer journalists have to do more work in today’s newsrooms. News outlets are cutting the number of journalists they employ, and those remaining are obliged to write more quickly and more often. Frequently they have minimum time to fact-check their stories. Therefore more media releases are being used directly as supplied. Therefore, the onus is on communication pros to fact-check PR material before sending it to the media.

This applies especially to material that is quickly prepared and ‘piggybacks’ on breaking news. Also, much of the content developed for social media and direct publication may not go through the typically rigorous corporate copy review process.

This new power to post online like a journalist adds the responsibility to fact-check PR material before sending. You should thoroughly check and double-check names, spelling, quotations, numbers, and facts on press releases and draft articles.

AI material especially requires rigorous fact-checking

When you come across online content you suspect could be AI-generated and therefore needs to be checked, especially if you suspect it may convey disinformation, you can take these precautions to review your material so it doesn’t go into the public arena without being checked;

Overall

  • Check with fact-checking websites: has the same content already been verified by independent fact-checkers? If not, often you can submit the content for verification to fact-checkers through dedicate channels (e.g. messaging app numbers)
  • Check traditional media: is the news conveyed by the content confirmed by other reliable independent sources?
  • Check the source of the content for warning signs (e.g. is it an anonymous account created/activated just a few days ago? Is it an account that consistently shares the same kind of AI-generated content? Is it an account that has no interaction in its comment sections?)
  • Use tools to detect AI-generated content but do not rely exclusively on them: they are known to make mistakes.

AI-generated images

  • Check the image for details that hint at it not being real, such as hands, fingers, eyes, shades, shapes, colors, background details, etc. Current technology often makes mistakes (improperly called “hallucinations”) in creating those details.
  • Use reverse image search (a tutorial here) on search engines to find the origin of the image, i.e. when and where it appeared online for the first time.

AI-generated audio

  • Listen carefully to the audio and pay attention to choices of words, intonation, breaths, unnatural pauses and other elements that can manifest anomalies.

AI-generated video

  • Check the quality of the video, e.g. lip-sync, out of focus contours, unrealistic features etc., to spot alterations.
  • Check the synchronization of audio and video, to spot the eventual addition of a fake audio on a real video.
  • Use reverse image search (tutorial) to find the original video.

AI-generated text

  • Don’t assume the accuracy and authenticity of answers from LLMs (Large Language Models that contain generative AI applications): they often miss the necessary information background to be thoroughly updated, and they are known to make mistakes and occasionally invent facts out of thin air (“hallucinations”).

Fact-checking PR material

InFaster Fact Checking, Part 1: Tools for Journalists Reporting Breaking News,” Amanda Hicken highlights resources used by reporters that help them check news quickly before releasing a story. Below are Hicken’s recommendations that should be considered before publishing news releases, editorial content, and social media posts:

Full Fact

Full Fact is an independent fact-checking organization in the U.K. that examines the reliability of data and numbers from published articles. It monitors online news, newspapers, and social media and provides free tools and advice so users can check claims and data reported by the media.

It’s particularly helpful if you’re news-jacking a popular topic and want to be sure you have all your information correct before publishing it.

Journalist’s Resource

This was named the Best Free Reference Web Site of 2013 by the American Library Association, Journalist’s Resource searches studies and credible online sources. It provides a recap of the findings as well as tips for media coverage. Just enter your topic or keywords into the search bar, or browse their selection of past studies to fact-check your topic.

Data Journalism Handbook

This free handbook offers a guide on how to collect, understand and deliver data. Hicken highlights several key chapters, including “Data Journalists Discuss their Tools of Choice” and “Using and Sharing Data: the Black Letter, Fine Print and Reality.”

The handbook is a must-have for any PR writer reporting on data or studies.

Associated Press Stylebook

The AP Stylebook is a journalist’s bible. Updated every year, it provides fundamental guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage, and journalistic style. It’s used by the majority of top-tier news outlets and publications, so you can be sure your work will be taken seriously by both the media and readers. You can order the AP Stylebook in print or online. It should be within arms’ length of every PR writer. Tip: follow @APStylebook on Twitter for daily style tips on current events.

PolitiFact

PR writers focusing on political events or working for government organizations should head to PolitiFact.com, which reports on political news and statements from politicians and attaches a “Truth-O-Meter” to each story. The meter rates stories as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false and, our favorite, “pants on fire.”

The World Fact Book—Central Intelligence Agency

The World Factbook provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities. The Reference tab includes: maps of the major world regions, Flags of the World, a Physical Map of the World, a Political Map of the World, a World Oceans map, and a Standard Time Zones of the World map. It also includes comparative statistics for countries.

Wikipedia

The free online encyclopedia written by volunteers contains 4.4 million fact-filled articles in English and 30 million in over 200 other languages on most every topic. Its references on each topic are as valuable as the write-ups for fact-finding. If you doubt its credibility, read the Wikipedia description in Wikipedia.

Google

If all else fails, use a search engine to double-check sources and facts. Our advice: Find at least two reputable sources that match the data and/or spelling of the fact you search for.

Bottom line: Accuracy is the key intent of journalism. To build credibility and establish their authority, PR practitioners must be uncompromising in assuring all published content is totally accurate.

Further reading

Pitching stories to media is a central role for PRs. You can read a helpful article, “Mastering email pitches: The key to effective stories for news media,” which also discusses the importance of fact-checking PR material before pitching to media.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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