Articles about "Fact Checking"


Publishers resurface evergreen content; Thailand’s the place to be for drone journalism

Here’s our roundup of the top digital and social media stories you should know about (and from Andrew Beaujon, 10 media stories to start your day):

— New York magazine is posting old content to its Facebook page, and Business Insider is doing so on its homepage, according to Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton. How timestamp-transparent should publishers be when resurfacing evergreen stories?

— Drone journalism won’t take off in South Africa or the U.S. anytime soon, according to Sydney Pead at PBS MediaShift. But in Thailand, “it’s considered a hobby” — and easier than playing Playstation 3.

— A new Twitter bot called @congressedits tracks Wikipedia edits from computers on Capitol Hill. David Uberti looks at six of the recent edits at Columbia Journalism Review. Read more

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Study: Political journalists opt for stenography over fact checking during presidential debates

During the 2012 U.S. presidential debates, political journalists on Twitter primarily repeated candidate claims without providing fact checks or other context, according to new research published in The International Journal of Press/Politics.

Authors Mark Coddington, Logan Molyneux and Regina G. Lawrence analyzed tweets from 430 political journalists during the debates to see how much they engaged in the checking of candidate claims. The resulting paper is “Fact Checking the Campaign: How Political Reporters Use Twitter to Set the Record Straight (or Not).”

They also examined whether the political journalist’s tweets fell more into the construct of traditional objectivity or what they call “scientific objectivity,” which eschews he said/she said in favor of empirical statements and analysis, i.e fact checking.

They found that 60 percent of the journalist tweets “reflected traditional practices of ‘professional’ objectivity: stenography—simply passing along a claim made by a politician—and ‘he said, she said’ repetition of a politician’s claims and his opponent’s counterclaim.”

Journalists largely repeated the claims and statement of candidates, rather that check or challenge them.

“Our data suggest that fact checking is not the most prominent use to which Twitter was put by reporters and commentators covering the 2012 presidential election,” the authors write. “Indeed, only a fraction of tweets in our sample referenced specific candidate claims at all.”

A missed opportunity

The researchers chose to look at tweets during the debates because debates are “central to the practice of political journalism and fact checking.”

They also wanted to see if fact checking was a big part of political Twitter during debates to get a sense of “how the emerging journalistic practice of fact checking manifests itself in a continually flowing information environment marked at its core by a fading distinction between fact and opinion.”

In the end, 15 percent of the tweets reflected the traditional fact-checking approach. These tweets saw journalists “referencing evidence for or against the claim and, in a few cases, rendering an explicit judgment about the validity of the claim …”

The data showed that checking was done more frequently by those in the data set who identified themselves as commentators rather than reporters. This again suggests that traditional notions of objectivity may be a factor.

Coddington, the lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Texas-Austin, said he and his co-authors believe journalists are missing an opportunity by not challenging and checking claims.

“Debates are a prime opportunity to challenge and confirm factual claims in real-time on Twitter to a public that’s paying real attention — a perfect spot to cut through the rhetoric of the campaign and play the informational role that journalists are capable of doing so well,” Coddington said. “Journalists aren’t, by and large, doing that, and they should, especially in a situation where audiences may be looking for someone to help them sort through the claims that are coming at them at a bewildering pace.”

The lack of checking was something of a surprise to him, as the researchers chose to look at fact checking on Twitter during the debates because they had seen so much of it in their feeds at the time.

I asked him why in the end there was so much stenography.
“Much of the debate analysis on Twitter fell into the category of what’s often called ‘horse-race’ journalism or commentary on strategy,” he said. “In other words, a lot of it was about what a candidate might have been trying to do strategically with statements in the debate, or the likely reception of those statements. As it related to the factual claims the candidates were making, these tweets fell into the stenography category — the journalists were simply passing on the claims, true or not, without any comment on their factual correctness. They weren’t concerned with whether the claims were true, only whether they would help or hurt the candidate.”

Challenge of real-time checking

One other factor may be that political journalists find it difficult to keep in the real-time flow of a debate and do checking at the same time.

Bill Adair, the founder of PolitiFact and now the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke, said it’s notable that journalists were able to do fact checking during such a fast moving event.

“It’s important to remember the nature of the event: It is a rapid-fire, largely unscripted free-for-all and reporters are trying to listen with one ear and still produce some tweets with value,” Adair said. “So there isn’t much time for reflection and verification. I’m happy to see that they manage to produce as much fact-checking as they do.”

It is indeed a challenge to do real-time fact-checking when you have no idea what candidates may say at any given moment. In an interview with me in 2012, the Associated Press’ Cal Woodward explained how they scale up their fact checking efforts for debate night:

We have anywhere from three to six or more people who are sitting at home or in the office watching a debate. When they hear something they’ll flag it and tell my editor [Jim Drinkard], who is the gatekeeper, and he will make a call if we think it’s strong enough to be developed. Sometimes they give me an item that’s pretty much already written, and I’ll slip it in.

It takes planning and execution to deliver fact checks at debate speed.

But it must also be said that journalists don’t have to be constantly tweeting during a debate. If you assume that people interested in the debate are watching it live, then your tweets need not be stenography — which is exactly what 60 percent of the ones gathered for this study were.

Why bother repeating what most people just watched and heard the candidate say? It may take a few minutes more to hunt for the source of a claim, or to offer context. But that’s arguably more valuable. So too is waiting until you have something to say, rather than rushing to transcribe something your followers are watching.

“For all the talk about Twitter as revolutionary journalistic tool, what we and others have found is that political journalists tend to use it simply to snark, talk strategy, and link to their work,” Coddington said. “Those are all fine ways to use Twitter, but that’s a big journalistic whiff if it’s not being used for anything more substantial than that.”

***

A final note on methodology for those interested: Their final data set included 17,922 tweets sent by the journalists beginning “one hour before each debate began until noon Eastern Time the following day.” The news organizations represented among the 430 journalists included a mix of large print outlets, broadcasters, cable news, online outlets, NPR and the AP. The authors attempted to mix national reporters with regional ones, and  17 percent of the journalists had bios that included words such as “commentator” or  “analyst.”  The authors felt they might be more inclined to offer opinions. That was born out in the data that showed these people did more fact-checking than others. Read more

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Truth Goggles launches as an annotation tool for journalists

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When Dan Schultz first described Truth Goggles close to three years go, he deemed it a “magic button” that could tell you “what is true and what is false on the web site you are viewing.”

That concept – which Schultz refers to as the “fact-check the Internet approach” – attracted a decent amount of press and enthusiasm at the time. Schultz shipped some related code as a result of him developing the project while at the MIT Media Lab.

Today, nearly three years later, he’s released the first Truth Goggles product — and it’s a departure from that original vision.

The Truth Goggles launching today is a tool to enable anyone to annotate an existing piece of online content to raise and answer questions about what’s been reported/written. It can also be used to offer a layer of personalized commentary.

“It’s still a credibility layer and it’s still very much about challenging the user and prompting the user to think in the moment,” Schultz said.

Schultz said journalists can use it to add more context, and to prompt readers to think more critically about information in an article.

“I think of it more as a storytelling tool being given to the journalist,” Schultz said. “Just like they can embed a YouTube video, they can embed a credibility layer. Or as a media critic or reader [you can highlight] an article that has red flags and can share your layer with your friends by giving a URL.”

Truth Goggles is by no means the only annotation tool out there. There is Scrible, MarkUp.io (which says it will be relaunching), and a plethora of tools to help web designers, educators and others markup websites with notes and feedback. There are also efforts like Hypothes.is, which aims to create a fact-based annotation layer for the web. Earlier this month, it received a grant of just over $750,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to “investigate the use of annotation in humanities and social science scholarship over a two year period.”

Schultz said his project is different in that it enables content creators like journalists to embed their own annotations on their work for all to see, and because it’s oriented to creating public annotations that are “about getting people to ask better questions and be more critical.”

It was after spending this academic year working part-time on Truth Goggles as a non-residential fellow with the Reynolds Journalism Institute that Schultz came to the conclusion that a personalized annotation layer was the best place to start with Truth Goggles.

As for how it connects to his original project goals, he said, “The goal still is to help people cut through their biases and walk away with a more informed sense of what they believe to be true  The point of this iteration on that vision really is to see whether or not a journalist would be willing (and able) to use annotation layers to get them there.”

Two ways to annotate

Truth Goggles annotations can be made visible in two ways. One option is for the author of the content to create annotations and then paste an embed code into the post to automatically display the annotations to all readers. (I’ve done that with this post; look for the yellow highights.)

Another option enables anyone to create annotations for an existing piece of content, and to generate a custom URL that can be shared with others to show your annotations.

Schultz said his inspiration is “to allow the journalist to be the voice inside their readers’ heads.” For others, it can be a way to “call out bullshit without needing to write a full blog post.”

If journalists are at least initially the primary user group, one obvious question is why they would need to annotate their own work? Shouldn’t important information be contained in the original article?

“My thinking is that interrupting the reader [with additional information/sourcing] every time you say something or make a claim interrupts the flow of the article in a physical sense,” Schultz said.

One example of this approach is ProPublica’s Explore Sources, a tool it developed to enable journalists to easily incorporate snippets of source material into a story. Click here to see it in action in a story. (Be sure to click the ON button at the top of the story to enable Explore Sources.)

Schultz said the Boston Globe plans to test out Truth Goggles to annotate health articles with additional information. (In 2012, Schultz spent a year in the Globe newsroom as a Knight-Mozilla Fellow.)

Why the pivot?

This version of Truth Goggles is being launched to see if it proves valuable to users, and to help Schultz identify how he should evolve the project.

“Maybe it’s not going to be a useful tool, maybe it will be … but I can see if it has legs or not,” he said.

My personal feeling is that journalists are more likely to use the tool to add context to their own work, or to call out notable passages elsewhere.

I asked Schultz what made him realize he had to move away from his original plans. He talked about the challenge of  “needing to have a database that has hundreds of thousands of [facts] before you can get off the ground” with a product that aims to fact check web content in real-time.

I detailed that very challenge in my recent post about Trooclick, a French startup that is aiming to execute on the “fact-check the Internet” vision.

Even with a big database of checked facts in hand, you also have to have enough computational and natural language processing power to analyze web content in real-time and surface the correct, relevant facts for any given piece of content. (Trooclick’s engineering team includes NLP experts.)

“Unrealistic is not a word want to use, but it was frankly a lot harder to gain traction and get to the point where traction was just a feasible thing,” Schultz said. Read more

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LinkedIn acquires major fact checking patents

Lucas Myslinski was tired of having to fact check the questionable emails his father often forwarded to him.

“My dad would send these emails where they say something like, ‘Oh the government is stockpiling billions of dollars of ammunition’ and other things like that, where if all you would do is take a little time and look on Snopes you would find it’s not true,” Myslinski said.

That very problem has inspired projects such as LazyTruth, Truth Goggles, and Trooclick, all of which I wrote about last week, as well as the Washington Post’s TruthTeller. There’s a broad consensus that in a world of abundant, and often incorrect, information it would be valuable to have an app that “automatically monitors, processes, fact checks information and indicates a status of the information.”

Myslinski sketched out his ideas and then took the step of patenting them. The above quote is in fact taken from one of his many patent filings and summarizes the core of the systems he has imaged and diagrammed over the last few years.

“I filed the initial ones and then as I had new ideas I attached them to it and kind of kept growing it,” he told me by phone this week.

As a result, since 2012 Myslinski has been awarded eight U.S patents related to fact-checking systems. It’s arguably the largest portfolio of fact-checking patents in the U.S., and perhaps the world.

Filing for patents is Myslinski’s day job. He began his career as a software engineer and is today a patent attorney with the Silicon Valley firm Haverstock and Owens, L.L.P.

A patent attorney in Silicon Valley holding eight fact-checking patents is interesting enough on its own. But it’s what Myslinksi did in March of this year that makes these patents even more notable.

That month, he transferred ownership of all of his fact-checking patents to a major Silicon Valley company, though perhaps not the first one you’d think of: LinkedIn.

Yes, the juggernaut of professional networking and recruiting is now the owner of perhaps the most significant portfolio of fact-checking patents.

I asked Myslinski what LinkedIn plans to do with his former patents.

“You know, I don’t know,” he told me. “I haven’t had any real discussions about what their plans are for it.” (Some entirely speculative thoughts from me are below.)

I contacted LinkedIn for comment and not surprisingly they didn’t offer any specifics, either.

“We are a fast growing Internet company and it’s not uncommon for us to expand our patent portfolio,” said spokesman Doug Madey in an emailed response. He also declined to name the cost of the acquisition.

I asked if LinkedIn planned to use these patents for product development and Madey said, “Our patent acquisitions do not necessarily foreshadow new product innovations.”

Mark Lemley, director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology and a partner at Durie Tangri LLP, listed three main reasons why a company like LinkedIn would buy patents:

(1) to try to shore up legal rights in a product space they consider important, (2) to resolve a claim that they are infringing those patents, and (3) because they think the patents will be useful to target a competitor or someone who is in turn threatening to sue them.

Michael Carrier, an intellectual property expert and distinguished professor at Rutgers School of Law, said LinkedIn’s acquisition likely has more to do with its competitors, rather than a specific interest in fact-checking.

“Companies acquire any patents that they think they can use against competitors,” he said. “LinkedIn must believe that it will be able to use these patents against rivals.”

For his part, Myslinski said he sought out a patent broker to sell his portfolio because he realized he wasn’t going to be able to turn the patents into a real product.

“First I focused on the patents and then I did have a developer develop a prototype, a very basic one,” he told me. “But then you know with just life and everything going on I figured it would probably be best to see what I could get out of it in terms of monetizing.”

The Patents

LinkedIn now owns these fact-checking patents (ordered by most recently granted):

  1. Method of and system for fact checking with a camera device
  2. Method of and system for fact checking email
  3. Social media fact checking method and system
  4. Web page fact checking system and method
  5. Method of and system for fact checking rebroadcast information
  6. Fact checking method and system
  7. Fact checking methods
  8. Fact checking method and system

There are also some open applications, including this one, which was just made public last week. It’s for a “Fact checking Graphical User Interface Including Fact Checking Icons,” and builds on the existing patents by introducing claims related to a user interface to display the result of fact checking claims.

Here, for example, is one drawing from that filing, a pair of “fact checking glasses”:

More important than the newly published application is the core patent in the portfolio, “Fact checking method and system,” which was granted in May of 2012.

That patent’s claims, in my view, represent the kind of systems being used, at least in part, by the aforementioned existing efforts in the world of automated/real-time fact checking.

Myslinski said he is aware of Truth Teller. I asked if he felt the project infringes on the patents. He hesitated before answering. “That would be up to [LinkedIn] to decide.”

I also asked LinkedIn. “We do not comment on intellectual property implications outside of the case of an active lawsuit,” was their answer.

That 2012 patent outlines Myslinksi vision of a checking system. Here’s what he wrote about the benefits of the system:

The fact checking system will provide users with vastly increased knowledge, limit the dissemination of misleading or incorrect information, provide increased revenue streams for content providers, increase advertising opportunities, and support many other advantages.

The patent’s specification includes a myriad of potential applications, from checking basic facts to alerting TV viewers to political bias on the part of a commentator, and imagining ways that viewers could flag items that need to be fact checked. The basics of the system are outlined in this diagram:

Again, that’s very basic. And, again, it arguably applies to how TruthTeller and others do their work… but that’s my non-legal opinion. (I’ll also state that my hope is these patents would never be used to stop efforts to develop fact-checking applications and systems.)

If Carrier, the patent expert, is correct and LinkedIn wants these patents mainly to use against competitors, then it’s important to consider who falls into their competitive set. Social networks, as well as jobs websites, are certainly competitors. (And when I saw those glasses I of course thought of Google Glass.)

But so too are publishers and other online information providers.

LinkedIn the publisher

LinkedIn has in a very short time become a major online publisher. The first big step in this direction came in the form of the purchase of Pulse, a news reader app that has since been revamped to power LinkedIn Today, a section of the site where the Pulse algorithm helps surface relevant content in a variety of industry and topic areas.

LinkedIn also has a small editorial team led by Dan Roth, formerly of Fortune. (Disclosure, when I was working at Spundge, a start-up, I met with Roth and a member of his team, and demoed our product.)

One of the biggest editorial efforts at LinkedIn is its Influencers program that has influential executives, entrepreneurs and others contribute content to the site. A more recent evolution is the expansion of LinkedIn’s CMS to enable anyone to write and publish content on LinkedIn.

That context makes the acquisition seem more in tune with LinkedIn’s editorial efforts. If they wanted to actually use these patents for innovation, an obvious step would be for LinkedIn to integrate fact-checking into its Pulse content algorithm. Then it could conceivably begin to offer professionals a feed of the most important and accurate information in their given industry.

That would save people time, and saving busy professionals time is a powerful value proposition. Of course, it would also bring people back to the site in a way that’s more effective and less annoying than all the “It’s Jane Doe’s birthday” LinkedIn emails.

And if LinkedIn can build an algorithm and system that reliably surfaces the most accurate content about a given topic, then that’s also a powerful tool to help scale its LinkedIn Today curation efforts – without requiring additional human editors. (Sorry folks!)

But the above is of course speculation on my part. Maybe even wishful thinking, given my affection for fact-checking. It’s entirely possible, and probably more likely, that LinkedIn simply wants to keep these patents in the chamber should they ever need to fire upon competitors.

If that’s the case, I hope the promising efforts in this emerging space don’t end up being collateral damage. Read more

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Fact-checkers plan international organization

The Poynter Institute’s Global Fact-Checking Summit concluded Tuesday with participants voting to start an international association.

The group will build on the progress of the London summit to connect fact-checkers and convene future meetings, said Bill Adair, creator of PolitiFact and the summit’s organizer.

“The meeting showed there is a passionate community of fact-checkers that is growing around the world,” said Adair, a professor at Duke University and an adjunct faculty member at Poynter. “The association will keep the fact-checkers in touch with each other and help them learn from each other.”

Look out, untruths!

“We’re excited about the possibility of The Poynter Institute being the home of the international fact-checking organization, and producing a website that showcases members’ best work and impact on democracies” Poynter President Tim Franklin said. “We’ll now be seeking foundation funding for this important effort.”

Attendees at the summit expressed their support and were eager to start sharing information.

Ukrainian fact-checker Margo Gontar said that before she attended the summit, she thought she was alone in the industry. She did not realize how many journalists are dedicated to the practice of fact-checking, she said.

“It is like I found an umbrella,” said Gontar. “Even if it doesn’t rain, I now know I have support from fact-checkers all over the world. I have people to lean on.”

PolitiFact Editor Angie Holan said an association would be helpful to organize more in-person meetings among fact-checkers. The conversations she had with colleagues during the summit were critical to understanding international efforts, she said.

One hope for the association is that it will create a platform to collect anecdotes of impact, said Adair.

It is difficult to measure the overarching impact of fact-checking, said Jane Elizabeth, Fact-Checking Project Manager at the American Press Institute. The best way to gauge influence is when politicians, media pundits or readers cite a fact-check.

For instance, a politician in Georgia posted an apology on his Facebook page for delivering misinformation and included the GRASS Fact Check link that revealed the false statement.

An Italian site called Pagella Politica presents its fact-checks on a weekly television news segment in addition to regular reporting on its site. The spot reaches about one million viewers.

The Poynter association will create a platform where these examples can be shared, and where fact-checkers can continue the conversations they had at the summit.

During a session on funding and sustainability — a key component to increasing fact-checking globally — attendees shared their funding methods and asked questions about donors.

“We are all furiously taking this down,” said Alexios Mantzarlis from Pagella Politica, laughing while participants scribbled notes.

A common disagreement between fact-checkers is whether sites should use a rating system, such as PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter.

Will Moy, Director of British site Full Fact, said “we live in a gray world” that is too complex to simply rate claims as True or False.

“There is something inherently dodgy about a rating system,” said Moy.

Adair disagreed. He said rating systems respected the reader’s time and served to summarize in-depth journalism.

For others, like Peter Cunliffe-Jones of Africa Check, the jury is still out. Cunliffe-Jones said he wants to assign a rating but is hesitant to use terms like True and False.

This is a conversation that is sure to be continued after the summit, said Adair.

Related: At fact-checking summit, ‘We hope courage is contagious’ (Poynter) | 8 tips for fact-checking from PolitiFact (journalism.co.uk) Read more

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At fact-checking summit, ‘We hope courage is contagious’

The stakes are high for fact-checkers in India, Govindraj Ethiraj from FactChecker.in said at Poynter’s Global Fact-Checking Summit in London Monday. Ethiraj risks his safety and credibility in order to fact-check politicians: “We do one thing wrong and our office will be burned up,” he said.

Summit attendees Monday.

Fact-checking is not always easy or safe, speakers said.

Macedonian fact-checker Bardhyl Jashari said, “We hope courage is contagious.” That’s why we fact-check, he said.

“Manufacturing of truth has become a multimillion dollar industry,” Tampa Bay Times Editor Neil Brown said in a keynote address. “This is where we come in to provide independent analysis.”

Brown.

Fact-checkers are “fighting difficult circumstances and bringing creativity to try to build this candid world,” Brown said.

The conference’s primary goal is to create a community among fact-checkers, said PolitiFact founder Bill Adair, who organized the summit, held at the London School of Economics.

Participants came from 6 continents and 21 countries, including South Africa, Ukraine, Serbia, Italy, Argentina and Australia. Adair encouraged fact-checkers to use their common passion to improve their techniques, share successful practices and learn from colleagues.

Only four of fact-checking sites that had representatives at the summit existed prior to 2010, said Lucas Graves, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin who has researched fact-checking.

The Internet has provided a platform for fact-checkers “that is more powerful than any politician’s microphone or any military leader’s weapon,” noted Tim Franklin, president of the Poynter Institute. “It is changing our societies right before our eyes.”

This trend is important because the world needs more clarions of fact-based truth, Franklin said.

And in turn, fact-checking operations need help from readers. Laura Zommer, founder of Chequeado in Argentina, explained a crowdsourcing platform she created called Dato Chequeado. Readers actively contribute to a database of sources that helps expose inaccuracies in political statements.

Similarly, FactCheckEU invites readers to submit their own fact checks, which undergo an editorial process and are posted on the site.

Zommer, left.

Further topics at the summit, which continues tomorrow, will include sustainability, the use of social media and tracking campaign promises. Read more

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Poynter to hold Global Fact-Checking Summit in London

With fact-checking growing around the world, the Poynter Institute will convene the first Global Fact-Checking Summit, to be held in June in London.

The conference, at the London School of Economics on June 9-10, will bring together about 40 fact-checkers from places such as South Africa, Italy, Great Britain, Germany, India, the United States, South America and Eastern Europe.

Fact-checking is expanding rapidly around the globe, according to a new analysis from the Duke University Reporters’ Lab. The Duke study found 59 sites that have been active in the last few years, including 44 currently in operation.

About half of the sites are affiliated with newspapers, television networks or other legacy media organizations. The other half are run by startup companies or not-for-profit groups. Twenty-seven have started in the past two years.

The Global Fact-Checking Summit is sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, the Duke Reporters’ Lab, the British fact-checking site Full Fact, and craigconnects, the Web-based initiative to support philanthropy and public service run by Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.

Topics will include the growth and challenges of fact-checking, the best techniques for researching claims, the pros and cons of rating systems, the use of crowdsourcing and the need to find sustainable business models.

“Fact-checking is quickly becoming an important new form of accountability journalism,” said Poynter President Tim Franklin. “Poynter will play a leading role to help journalists do their best work and foster the growth of fact checking, which is vital to democracies around the world.”

The conference also represents Poynter’s strategy to greatly expand its training initiatives across the globe. Last month, Poynter led a series of seminars for journalists in India. Later this month, the institute will formally announce the launch of a training project for Turkish journalists. The project includes e-learning courses through NewsU Turkiye, a certificate program and a fellowship that will bring up to 20 Turkish journalists to Poynter in the fall.

Presenters at the fact-checking conference will include editors from PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site in the United States, and Chequeado, an independent fact-checking site in Argentina, as well as Lucas Graves, a University of Wisconsin professor who is writing a book about the rise of fact-checking, and Bill Adair, a Duke University professor and adjunct faculty member at Poynter.

For more information about the conference, contact Bill Adair at bill.adair@duke.edu.

Related training: Getting it Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age | Don’t Get Fooled Again: Best Practices for Online Verification | How to Keep Misinformation from Spreading | Growing Trust and Engagement With Local News Audiences | Making the Case for Fact-Checking in Your Newsroom | Political Fact-Checking: Tips and Tricks for the 2012 Election Read more

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Washington Post expands fact-checking project — and not just to movie trailers

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Leonardo DiCaprio are getting the same fact-checking treatment thanks to the latest evolution of The Washington Post’s Truth Teller project.

The actor and the senator each figure prominently in new videos produced by Truth Teller, which takes video of someone (usually a politician) speaking and annotates their statements with fact checks from the Post and other sources. It’s Pop-Up Video meets PolitiFact.

Here, for example, is the Cruz video released this week:

This week the Post announced a partnership with The Texas Tribune that resulted in the above video. They also announced a project to check “based on a true story” film trailers, which is why DiCaprio is suddenly having his performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street” fact-checked.

Look out, Leo. The fact-checkers are coming. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures, Mary Cybulsk, file)

Truth Teller was given legs a year and a half ago thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. They initially needed to build a prototype to show what was possible.

“We built the prototype in three months and it was an experiment,” said Cory Haik, the Post’s executive producer and senior editor for digital. “We built a prototype that works. It could take video and turn it into text or a transcript; then we built an algorithm that could find a claim within that text; and then we built a database that could check against that clam.”

Truth Teller is today well into beta, having been tested in last fall’s gubernatorial race in Virginia. It’s enabled in part thanks to the fact-checking work being done at The Fact Checker, a longstanding Post feature run by Glenn Kessler.

Haik said Truth Teller has become more visible to readers in the Post’s website, and the number of reporters checking facts and loading them into the database is growing, helping add to the work Kessler does.

“We’ve made it more public facing in various places on our site, and had our team of checkers doing their work and really proving their case,” she said.

Post senior politics editor Steve Ginsberg, who co-founded the project with Haik, said Truth Teller will be used in this year’s House and gubernatorial races that fall into the Post’s local coverage areas.

The partnership with the Texas Tribune also means Truth Teller is spreading to other news organizations.

“We provide TruthTeller and they provide the video and the facts,” Ginsberg said of the partnership.

“The reaction has been fantastic,” said Texas Tribune editor Emily Ramshaw, in an email, when I asked about how the Cruz video went over. “We saw great buzz on social media and got several notes about what an innovative feature it was. Folks were quickly asking us who was next in line to get the Truth Teller treatment. “

She said it’s a good fit for their publication, as one of their priorities for the 2014 election season is to livestream the gubernatorial candidates while they’re out on the trail.

“We’ll have a wide range of stump speeches to choose from,” Ramshaw said.

Structuring Fact Checks

One benefit of the partnership for the Post, along with helping get more exposure for their tool, is that Tribune journalists are now helping grow the fact-check database by loading in new items.

Ramshaw said that to do the Cruz video “our reporter Aman Batheja uploaded a series of fact checks into the Post’s content management system. They got it loaded in and flipped it back to us by way of an embed code, which we promptly threw into a story shell on our site.”

The database, which is a modified installation of WordPress, is today home to close to a few hundred fact checks, according to the paper, making it one of the largest databases of this kind. (PolitiFact — which is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which in turn is owned by Poynter — has a very big database.)

A database of checked facts sounds very pedestrian, but it’s actually a core requirement to helping fact-checking spread to new forms and venues. With a database of fact checks, you can utilize them in any number of applications. Truth Teller is just one example of what can be done. Dan Schulz’s TruthGoggles initiative is another. (Schulz did some initial consulting for the Post on Truth Teller.)

“It’s sort of organic how it happened — we didn’t set out thinking, ‘Let’s structure all fact-checking into a giant database and then create multiple uses or instances,’ ” Ginsberg said. “But as we built it with our smart developers and digital journalists and designers we thought about the best way to approach it.”

Haik said getting the fact checks structured is “the hardest part,” but it’s what makes everything else possible.

Fact-Checking Goes Hollywood

The goal all along, according to Ginsberg, has been to “make Truth Teller for the masses.” That’s the genesis of the idea to take the app out of the political realm and apply it to film trailers.

“We were trying to think of something a little broad-based than politics and that is at the core of what Americans are looking at,” Ginsberg said. “We realized a lot of movies are based on real life, and they’re not just real-life stories but also Washington stories about politics or scandal. It seemed like a natural fit for us.”

The first trailer that Kessler checked was “The Wolf of Wall Street”:

“When you see a movie and know it’s based on real life, the first question you ask when it comes out is, ‘How much of that was real?’ ” Ginsberg said.

It’s about trying to “meet the user where they are [and in] what they watch … we can layer journalism over non-journalism like move trailers,” Haik said.

So far this week the trailers have been among the top Post videos watched, according to Haik.

She said key priorities for this year are to work with other news organizations to enable them to use Truth Teller, and to test other ways to apply the product beyond politics. (Want to use Truth Teller at your organization? Haik wants to talk to you.)

Beyond that, meaning closer to 2016, the team wants to enable people to capture video on their phones and submit it so it can get the Truth Teller treatment.

I also asked the inevitable question that comes with any Post initiative these days: Does Jeff Bezos know about the project, and what does he think?

“We have shown all of the top digital initiatives to those teams and everyone has been very supportive, and we feel good about that,” was Haik’s very cautious reply.

Correction: This post said that Steve Ginsberg came up with the original idea for Truth Teller. In fact, Ginsberg and Haik co-founded the project.

Related Training: Getting it Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age Read more

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How PolitiFact gets ready for ‘the Super Bowl for fact-checkers’

The president’s State of the Union address is “the Super Bowl for fact-checkers,” former PolitiFact honcho Bill Adair tells a video crew at his new employer, Duke University.

PolitiFact — which is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which in turn is owned by Poynter — gets a copy of the speech a few minutes before the U.S. House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms shouts “Mr. Speaker.” Via instant message, PolitiFact editors assign reporters to specific sections of the speech.

The editors then gather in PolitiFact’s “Star Chamber” and hand out Truth-o-Meter ratings, Adair says.

Related: YouTube, news sites will livestream the State of the Union | The White House wants to be your second screen for State of the Union address Read more

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Washington Post honors researcher who has ‘shared more Pulitzer Prizes than anyone in the newsroom’

Washington Post researcher Julie Tate is among the winners of this year’s Eugene Meyer Awards at the Washington Post, Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth tells staffers in an email. Tate “began her career at The Post occupying a seat in the very back of the newsroom — in “the library” — where the job was usually to locate newspaper clips and spell-check names for reporters writing stories,” Weymouth writes.

But Julie had her own ideas about research, and they went far beyond what most reporters knew to ask for. They included original reporting that made links between events and people, people and addresses, people and people, and eventually secret things the government was trying to hide. For those reporters who spotted her unique skills, she was a gold mine. They would scheme to get her to work with them because they knew she would find facts and relationships they hadn’t even thought of.

Tate, Weymouth writes, has “shared more Pulitzer Prizes than anyone in the newsroom; in 2005 alone her name was on four of the six won by The Washington Post that year,”

In 2008, Erik Wemple, then the editor of Washington City Paper (where I worked with him), wrote about Tate, calling her an “Unsung Hero” on pieces like Dana Priest and Anne Hull’s series on Walter Reed Hospital. Tate was previously a fact-checker at The New Yorker and gave a seminar there in fact-checking techniques after its senior editor Peter Canby heard her talk “about search programs she was using that I had never heard of,” he told Wemple. Read more

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