A fact checker is the person who checks factual assertions in non-fictional text, usually intended for publication in a periodical, to determine their veracity and correctness. The job requires general knowledge and the ability to conduct quick and accurate research.
The resources and time needed for fact-checking means that this work is not done at most newspapers, where reporters' timely ability to correct and verify their own data and information is chief among their qualifications. Publications issued on weekly, monthly, or infrequent bases are more likely to employ fact-checkers.
Fact-checking, known as "research" at many publications, is most critical for those publishing material written by authors who are not trained reporters — such writers being more likely to make professional, ethical, or mere factual mistakes. Fact-checking methods vary; some publications have neither the staff nor the budget needed for verifying every claim in a given article. Others will attempt just that, going so far as communicating with the authors' sources to review the content of quotations.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, German weekly Der Spiegel runs "most likely the world’s largest fact checking operation", employing the equivalent of eighty full-time fact checkers as of 2010.
Typically, fact-checking is an entry-level publishing job at major magazines; fact-checker jobs at The New Yorker are considered prestigious and can lead to higher-level positions, usually at other magazines.
Among the benefits of printing only checked copy is that it averts serious, sometimes costly, problems, e.g. lawsuits and discreditation. Fact checkers are primarily useful in catching accidental mistakes; they are not guaranteed safeguards against those who wish to commit journalistic frauds, such as Stephen Glass (who began his journalism career as a fact-checker). The fact checkers at The New Republic and other weeklies never flagged the numerous fictions in Glass's reportage. Michael Kelly, who edited some of Glass's concocted stories, blamed himself, rather than the fact-checkers:
- "Any fact-checking system is built on trust. . . . If a reporter is willing to fake notes, it defeats the system. Anyway, the real vetting system is not fact-checking but the editor."
Fact checking began in the early 20th century: "Any bright girl who really applies herself to the handling of the checking problem can have a very pleasant time with it and fill the week with happy moments and memorable occasions" - Ed Kennedy, Time (1920s). By the 1930s a fact checking department became a symbol of establishment among publications.
Digital technology opens the doors for new levels of scalability both in terms of fact generation and dissemination. There are even organizations and services such as FactCheck, PolitiFact, and NewsTrust's Truth Squad dedicated entirely to fact checking. Craig Newmark of Craigslist is making major pushes for new fact checking tools and is searching for projects that will provide "information he can trust."
Prominent fact checkers
- Jonathan Shainin – Guardian editor
- Julia Joffe – New Republic editor
- Lila Byock – TV writer (Manhattan)
- Miriam Markowitz – Deputy Literary Editor, The Nation
- Ben McGrath – New Yorker staff writer
- Matthew Power – Harper's Magazine contributing editor
- Susan Choi – American novelist
- Jay McInerney – American novelist, wine columnist, and socialite
- William Gaddis – American novelist
- Anderson Cooper – Television anchorman
- Nancy Franklin – New Yorker staff writer
- Sean Wilsey – McSweeney's Editor-at-Large and memoirist
- Roger Hodge – Editor, Harper's Magazine
- Esther Dyson – technologist
- David Rees – cartoonist
- Daniel Menaker – Former Editor-in-chief of Random House
- Thomas Meehan – Tony award-winning author of Annie
- David Kirkpatrick – New York Times reporter
- Virginia Heffernan – New York Times television critic
- Steve Rushin – Sports Illustrated columnist
Organizations and websites
- FactCheck.org: a non-partisan, nonprofit website that describes itself as a "'consumer advocate' for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics." It is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.
- FlackCheck.org: Headquartered at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, FlackCheck.org is a video-based counterpart to APPC’s award-winning program FactCheck.org. FlackCheck.org uses parody and humor to debunk false political advertising, poke fun at extreme language, and hold the media accountable for their reporting on political campaigns. FlackCheck.org is funded by an endowment provided by the Annenberg Foundation to support the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics and by a grant from the Omidyar Network.
- PolitiFact.com: A service of the St. Petersburg Times - Created August 2007, uses the "Truth-o-Meter" to rank the amount of truth in public persons' statements. 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner.
- Snopes.com focuses on, but is not limited to, validating and debunking urban legends and other stories in American popular culture.
- The Fact Checker (The Washington Post): A project of The Washington Post, known for grading politicians on the factual accuracy of their statements with one to four "Pinocchios." Created September 2007 by Post diplomatic writer Michael Dobbs specifically for the 2008 presidential campaign. Shutdown Nov 4, 2008. Relaunched with a broader focus in January 2011 with veteran Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler at the helm.
- Bama Fact Check: An Alabama-based, statewide partnership of newsgathering organizations which checks factual claims by politicians and public figures in Alabama. Partners in the project include The Anniston Star, The Decatur Daily, The Dothan Eagle, The Florence TimesDaily, The Opelika-Auburn News, The Tuscaloosa News and WVTM-TV in Birmingham.
- FactCheckEd.org: An educational resource for high school teachers and students. Sister site to FactCheck.org and a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Created September 2005
- FactCheckEU.org: "FactCheckEU is Europe's first crowd-checking platform. It is born out of the belief that as the EU becomes ever more integrated it becomes increasingly essential to develop watchdogs capable of monitoring the political debate." Created January 2014
- Full Fact: An independent fact checking organisation based in the UK which aims to "promote accuracy in public debate", launched in 2009.
- The FactCheck blog: A fact checking blog run by the Channel 4 News organisation.
- Chequeado.com: Argentine fact-checking website.
- Rete al candidato: Rete al candidato is the first political fact checking digital platform in Central America. It is based in Costa Rica and was launched in 2013 by the weekly newspaper El Financiero to monitor the political debate of the 2014 presidential elections in that country. It is supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
- Africa Check: a South Africa-based organisation checking claims made by public figures in Africa.
- Les Décodeurs: French fact-checking blog run by Le Monde.
- Pagella Politica: an Italian fact-checking website.
- Factual: first fact-checking initiative in Romania, launched in May 2014.
- Demagog: joint project in Visegrad Group countries launched in 2010 in Slovakia and developed in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (April 2010)|
- Craig Silverman: Inside the World’s Largest Fact Checking Operation. A conversation with two staffers at Der Spiegel, Columbia Journalism Review, April 9, 2010.
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- Heffernan, Virginia. The Medium: What ‘Fact-Checking’ Means Online, The New York Times Magazine, August 20, 2010. Retrieved online March 1, 2012. Note per the newyorktimes.com: "A version of this article appeared in print on August 22, 2010, on page MM14 of the Sunday Magazine".
- Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. RIFF: The Fact-Checker Versus the Fabulist, The New York Times Magazine, February 21, 2012. Retrieved from NewYorkTimes.com on March 1, 2012. Note per the newyorktimes.com: "A version of this article appeared in print on February 26, 2012, on page MM45 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: ‘I Have Taken Some Liberties’".
- Columbia Journalism Review on Stephen Glass[dead link]
- Silverman, Craig. Note: on March 1, 2012, Google's Safe Browsing utility blocked the following website, with a comprehensive security warning which read in part: "Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer." The external link referred to for the conference report is at: www.regrettheerror.com/2010/04/09/top-fact-checkers-and-news-accuracy-experts-gather-in-Germany/ "Top fact checkers and news accuracy experts gather in Germany" "Regret the error", April 9, 2010 (Report about a conference on fact checking)