To: All Humari Baat staff members
From: The Editor
Re: Guidelines for fact checking, code of conduct, correction at Humari Baat
As we embark on our newly energized fact-checking program on the eve of crucial local and national elections, here are the rules and guidelines that have been agreed upon by a wide-ranging newsroom committee. We have developed these guidelines to assure high quality, consistency, and defensible adjudication in our fact checks. Adhering to our defined practices provides us with a safety net of sorts from corrections and partisan criticism.
And remember our guiding keywords:
Transparency = telling readers why you did the fact check and how you did it;
Words = the importance of focusing on each word in a fact check, because a single word can skew the meaning of a statement;
Checklist = Our process to error-proof each fact check and provide consistent quality.
If you have any questions or suggestions concerning these instructions, please see the managing editor or me.
Step 1: Selecting the statement to check
Remember that not all statements are created equal. Here are some quantifiable criteria to help establish a hierarchy of the most important facts to check:
- What was the biggest ad buy — in Ruppees or air time?
- What statements are causing the most buzz in the community?
- What has gone viral on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.)?
- What are our readers reading/commenting on? What are our readers’ favorite topics, generally?
- How often are the statements being repeated (on talk shows, during speeches, etc.)?
- How viable is the candidate (based on polls, etc.) In other words, fact checking a non-contender may not be efficient.
- What statement is the opposition fighting or talking most about?
- Can the statement be proven or well-supported by facts? Or Is the statement a prediction or otherwise subjective? (Those fact checks can be difficult to write and less helpful to readers, though don’t rule out these statements if they meet other criteria.)
- Does the statement contain many numbers and statistics about one particular topic? Statistics can be manipulated to support a partisan message; checking those numbers is a valuable service to our readers.
Reporters can and should investigate a wide variety of potential content sources to find and assess statements to check. These include:
- TV/radio ads
- Internet ads
- TV/radio talk shows
- Internet talk shows and blogs
- Campaign web sites
- YouTube campaign videos
- Social media posts by candidates or campaigns
- Mailings, fliers
- Campaign stops
- Fundraising events
- Committee hearings, floor speeches and other government meetings and proceedings
- Campaign marketing content such as slogans, songs and billboards
- Email and mobile (text) campaigns
Because of the growth in communication methods, there’s a concurrent increase in the number of potential statements to check. But limit each fact check to only one statement or a set of statements that are clearly related; otherwise the fact check can become confusing and unwieldy.
Another point to remember: Although we are not keeping a “scorecard” on the numbers of fact checks produced about one party or another, we must be aware of that balance. If you find that too many fact checks investigate one particular person or party, reporters and editors should re-examine how those statements are being selected and make sure the process is sensible and defensible.
Step 2: Researching, reporting and writing the fact
A designated writer and editor must be assigned to check the facts at the beginning of the process. The editor must approve the statement.
When examining the statement to be checked, look for these common red flags. Sometimes found in campaign rhetoric:
- Deceptive dramatization. Watch for accurate words combined with misleading images.
- Distraction. Strong visuals, attempts at humor, music, etc., are a method of encouraging readers/viewers to uncritically absorb bad information.
- Guilt by association.
- Misappropriating news stories. Similar to movie ads that pull only positive words from critical reviews.
- “Misplaced referent.” Overuse of “we” “you” and “they” can be used to take opponents’ words out of context.
- Out of context examples and references.
- “Visual vilification.” Using unattractive or photoshopped images to make opponent seem unappealing.
- Deception by omission: What is NOT being said?
- Biased sources – While information from the source may appear correct, what about the source itself? Is it partisan, biased, projecting its own ideology?
- Cherry-picking data. Selectively uses data to make a candidate look good or the opponent look bad.
- Invented/inflammatory words or phrases– “Death panel” and “pro-abortion” are examples. Watch for labels that are crafted to influence public opinion and mislead voters.
- Outdated evidence. Uses old studies or statistics that are now irrelevant or no longer true.
- Absolutes and superlatives. Descriptors such “worst,” “best,” “highest,” “lowest” and so on should be considered red-flag words. Often these statements are incorrect and are relatively easy to fact check.
When you have selected a statement, the first call you make should be to the person or party responsible for making the statement. Here is the checklist for proceeding with your fact check (derived in part from the process used by PolitiFact and other major fact-checking programs):
1. First using e-mail, contact the person responsible for making the statement and the target, if applicable. If they don’t answer, then call, then visit. Even if you’re not ready with questions, let them know that you’re doing a fact check, and ask them for the precise source of their statement. (Check their sources, but remember you are looking for the ORIGINAL source of the statement. For example, you don’t want a newspaper story about the state budget; you want the state budget itself.)
2. Work on obtaining facts and expert sources. Check archives, google search, online or actual books, Nexis or special databases. Check social media for sources, live reporting, debates, discussion, image debunking or tweets/Facebook posts to illustrate your fact check (if that’s included in your format.) Seek help from our research staff when you need it. But also remember that many resources are contained within our Data Library recently set up by IT. As you obtain good, clean, useful data, you should upload that data to the Library.
3. Contact experts– pro, con and neutral — using the list you compiled in #2.
4. Interview the subject and the target (if applicable) to address the facts you have gathered. Questions include: How did you verify this statement before you used it? If there is data, WHEN was the data gathered? If the statement is from a poll or survey, was the respondent pool large enough and diverse enough? Were the results presented truthfully, or cherry-picked to suit an ideology? Remember that you must use our Google docs account to share all interview notes, data, documents, and story drafts with editors — and other staffers as necessary.
5. Write*, then fact check. Using additional sources, corroborate the evidence/verification. Use verification tools where necessary, for photos, videos, etc.
6. After all interviews and research are gathered, decide on the label for your fact check. You must choose one of these four labels from our standard list: Correct; Misleading — correct, but with a particularly remarkable lack of context; Incorrect; Opinion/Not Provable (This label should be rarely used.)
7. Edit and Review**. After your fact check goes through the normal editing process, it will be sent to top editors who have not been involved in the process for a final review. The final review will use standardized questions for each fact check, and will focus on how our readers might perceive and assess it.
Use this checklist to write and prepare your fact check for editing:
1. Have you included the wording of the statement you’re checking, word for word?
2. Have you explained why this statement was selected for checking? (Refer to Step 1 above).
3. Have you explained the category of deception? (Refer to Step 2 above).
4. Have you identified the sources for every fact you’ve used?
5. Do you have at least two independent, qualified sources to refute or support the statement that you checked?
6. Is your story between 16-18 column inches? If not, have you been given approval for a different length?
7. Have you clearly stated the reason for the label?
8. Is the adjudication (label) mentioned briefly at the top of the story, and in more detail at the end of the story?
9. Have you included links to your sources, and to the statement being checked?
**Guidelines for reviewing and editing the fact check
The editor assigned to the fact check must first thoroughly edit the fact check, working with the reporter to clear up any questions or inconsistencies. Then, the fact check must be edited and approved by our fact-check reviewers who will serve as a typical reader’s eyes and ears. These two editors must not be involved in the original production of the fact check and must come from this group based on availability: local news editor, deputy local news editor, national news editor, deputy national news editor, politics editor, assistant managing editor, copy desk chief.
The two additional editors must first ensure that all criteria from the writing checklist (see Step 3) have been met. Then, they must use the following final editing checklist (based in part on the PolitiFact checklist):
1. Is the claim open to interpretation? Is there another way to read the claim?
2. Is the rating fair and consistent with our other fact checks?
3. Is our rating supported by all available facts? Do questions linger?
STEP 3: Producing the fact check
The fact check should be published on the web as soon as it’s approved and ready. Any delay must be considered and approved by the managing editor or assistant managing editor. Publishing a fact check as soon as it’s ready is a defensible action; delaying or scheduling the fact check can invite suspicion and criticism.
Online versions should always use this standardized headline format: “FACT CHECK: Did 20,000 residents lose their jobs in the state last year?”and“FACT CHECK: Did Candidate A’s campaign workers steal Candidate B’s campaign signs?”
All fact checks should include a link to our FAQ section.
Print version (if applicable) should be published consistently in the same section with the same headline treatment and footprint. Variations from this practice can be approved by the managing editor or assistant managing editor.
Video fact checks should be produced carefully. We follow the guidelines mentioned in https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/FAQs%20on%20Digital%20Media%20Ethics%20Code.pdf but here are the basics:
Step 4: Promoting your fact check through social media
Remember that anyone posting to our organization’s social media accounts must first take our social media training course.
Social media is a crucial vehicle for distributing our work. Fact checks should be posted to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t put your byline on.
Keep the structure of tweets consistent.
Tweet words and phrases directly from your story only after the story has been approved by all editors. If you have any questions about the phrasing of your tweet, please see an editor who has worked on the story.
Step 5: What do do after your fact check is published
Make sure your fact check is archived properly with all appropriate keywords.
Read comments and social media reaction to your fact check. Is there a follow-up?
If there is a correction: The editor’s note should be placed on top of the story, clearly stating the incorrect information and the corrected information. The revised fact check should be posted on social media with the words: Corrected FACT CHECK: Only 8,000 residents lost their jobs in the last administration.
Keep an eye on statements that you have rated as incorrect or misleading: Are they still being repeated after your fact check is published? Track this and consider another fact check or story.