A little over a year ago, I suggested to colleagues at Poynter that I write an e-book about verification.
It seemed to me an essential project, but also a reflection of the shift I’ve experienced in my focus for Regret the Error. When I first launched this blog as a standalone site in 2004, I was primarily finding and publishing corrections. Over time, I began to look at errors — their cause, prevalence and effect.
In the past three years, perhaps in part due to the spread of social media, smartphones and viral news, I’ve found myself more and more focused on verification.
With so much misinformation flowing fast and freely, and the ability for anyone to easily shoot, share and/or manipulate images and video, the skills of verification have never been more important. Yet it’s not taught on an ongoing basis in most newsrooms. And it’s not just journalists who need the skills and knowledge to sift real from fake — this is a basic, essential skill of news literacy. We all need it. It’s about cultivating a mindset to question and scratch away at the surface of what we see, hear and read.
Today, I’m proud to announce the publication of the free Verification Handbook. It provides news organizations and others with detailed and valuable guidance for verifying information. It’s live today as a website and we will soon release the handbook as a PDF and Kindle book, along with an Arabic translation. (More languages will follow, along with a print edition.) Sign up at the website to be notified when the other versions are released.
A global effort
Rather than a solo project, the book is the result of a global collaboration organized and coordinated by the European Journalism Centre, with partners that include Poynter. We reached out to people at the leading edge of verification to contribute chapters about what they do and how they do it. We also have case studies from Syria, Japan, the United States, Nigeria and other places around the world. Working with Rina Tsubaki of the EJC, I was lucky enough to get to pick the contributors and work on their chapters and case studies. The contributor lineup is an all-star verification team.
Organizations involved include ones you might expect, such as the BBC, Storyful, The Guardian, and Circa. But it also includes contributions from Amnesty International, WITNESS, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, OpenStreet Map, and the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute.
Part of the reason for the diverse group, and the marriage of news organizations with NGOs and others, is that the book is oriented toward verifying information in disaster and emergency situations. This is when the need to gather and distribute accurate information takes on additional urgency; it’s also when humans are predisposed to invent and spread rumor and misinformation.
The other reason, noted above, is our networked world with ever more smartphones means we can all be nodes in a network of truth, or of falsehoods. Verification is not just about journalists. It’s about all of us helping improve the quality of the information we see and share.
This handbook offers lots of tools and some technical advice — but the most important pieces are non-technical. It’s about a mindset, about asking questions when others don’t, and maintaining skepticism when something looks true, or is more attractive if true.
It’s also about practice. Do the work of verification day after day and you’ll hone your skills, and your sense. Do it with colleagues in a defined process, and you’ll all achieve a better result — faster.
This handbook is a powerful tool to help the skills and techniques of verification spread.
A peek inside the Verification Handbook
Want to know what you’ll get? Here’s a quick look at just some of what’s in the handbook.
- Contributors from Amnesty International and Storyful provide advice and example of how to verify video, while journalists from the BBC, Guardian and BuzzFeed offer the same for verifying images.
- Tom Trewinnard of Meedan, an NGO, offers a look at how a network of Syrians inside and outside Syria use a Facebook group to verify information coming out of the country. It’s a model of how crowdsourced verification can work, and goes well with a chapter on that topic from GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram.
- Internews Ukraine, an NGO, tells the story of how they mobilized 36 journalists, three election monitoring organizations and Ukrainians from all over the country to gather, verify and publish news about the 2012 elections.
- Anthony De Rosa of Circa gives something of a master class in how to use social media as a police scanner.
- Japanese public broadcaster NHK shares details of their impressive disaster coverage preparedness training and planning. For example, it has “500 robot cameras set up in major cities, in coastal areas and around nuclear power plants in order to be able gather live, verified footage as it happens. The broadcaster will this year “have 15 helicopters stationed in 12 locations around Japan. This will enable us to reach, and broadcast from, any location in the country within an hour.”
- Steve Buttry of Digital First Media provides an overview of the fundamental discipline of verification, including the one question that lies at its heart.
- Patrick Meier of the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute provides an overview of how advanced computing is being used to help verify information.
- Sarah Knight of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation offers a roadmap for how news organizations can prepare for disaster coverage.
- Finally, here’s a little verification tip I didn’t know until I worked on this book. Twitter and Facebook, of course, both have verification programs that place a blue tick on accounts that are verified as real/official. Hoaxsters, however, have figured out ways to fake the blue ticks in profile images. So to see if an account really is verified, hover over the tick to see if the text “verified account” pops up. (And remember: just because an account has been verified by Twitter/Facebook, doesn’t mean everything they say is true… .) Here’s a Vine from Sue Llewellyn showing this in action: