I got my job in 1995, just as the last golden age of magazine business journalism, fueled by heavy spending dotcom companies, was beginning. Time Inc, which owns Fortune, was itself just transitioning into the modern world. The fact checking department used to be dominated by women, who worked for mostly male writers, and was still run by a wonderfully old school woman named Rosalind Berlin.
The job demanded different colored pens, McLean wrote, (she’s now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, an author and writes a column for Reuters.) It demanded newsroom hierarchy, protocols and the guts to pick up the phone and actually check facts with the people those facts were written about.
I don’t think that fact checking always resulted in stories of unimpeachable accuracy. Facts are slippery little creatures, and there’s even more slipperiness in how a writer chooses to lay the facts to construct the edifice of a story.
But I do lament the loss of that training ground. Learning how to read skeptically, how to pull someone else’s writing apart, is a good skill for a journalist, especially today. (Actually, it’s a good skill for anyone.)
Did you get your start in journalism as a fact-checker? If that job was your first job, e-mail or tweet me (firstname.lastname@example.org and @kristenhare) and I’ll try to include your story in an upcoming story.