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.
Thus the onus is more on communication pros to check facts before sending material 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 like a journalist adds the responsibility to fact-check like a journalist. You should thoroughly check and double-check names, spelling, quotations, numbers, and facts before publishing an article.
In “Faster 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 holy grail of journalism. To build credibility and establish their authority, PR practitioners must be uncompromising in assuring all published content is totally accurate.