Journalists should approach their reporting and interviewing with a healthy dose of skepticism. This doesn’t mean they should trust no one, but it means they should be aware of potential conflicts of interest or barriers to receiving accurate information. Reporters should always verify, even if the information seems incredibly obvious and simplistic. Verifying information is much like fact-checking. Students should seek multiple forms of evidence to confirm information.
Staff manual process
Student journalists should be trained to ask one very specific question during every interview: “How do you know?” This particular question can help reporters analyze whether a source really is in a position to know the information in question. Reporter checklists or training materials should address this step.
Many ways exist to verify and corroborate information. Corroboration requires journalists to ask multiple sources the same question to determine whether the answer is the same across all sources. If the answer varies, journalists should seek additional information and evidence. The staff manual should outline this process.
Students may want to read quotes back to a source for verification, especially when a story deals with specialized knowledge or sensitive material. However, some sources may want to read the entire story, but this gives up editorial control and can put the writer in a difficult position. The staff manual should cover what is expected of reporters in this situation.
• Editors should establish multiple deadlines for stories in order to track progress. This helps cut down on the last-minute rush before publication when reporters run out of time to verify.
• Training and staff resources should make sure all reporters know what to say if a source – particularly a school administrator and someone who might be intimidating – asks to read a complete story prior to publication.
• While it may be unrealistic to require a set number of sources for each story, the staff manual should explain the need for multiple sources in order to get all the facts.
• The staff manual should emphasize the importance of asking for exact spelling of names, places and organizations to make sure these details are accurate, even if the name seems fairly common.
• The student media staff should implement a system to keep track of sources who have provided misinformation and either stop using those sources or take extra measures to verify the information they provide.
• Students should always consider what documents or evidence can be used to corroborate source information.
Journalism As a Discipline of Verification, American Press Institute
How Do Journalists Verify?, The Poynter Institute
Lesson: Fact Checking in the Digital Age, Journalism Education Association
Lesson: How the Pros Fact Check, Journalism Education Association
Verify Information, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
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