Regret the Error

Craig Silverman reports on trends and issues regarding media accuracy and the discipline of verification.Stories about errors, corrections, fact checking and verification

factchecking-100

Academic research: ‘Huge growth’ in fact checking by the media

As some wring their hands about a decline in newsroom resources and quality, there’s a “huge growth” in fact checking in the coverage of politics, according to a new academic study.

Several thousand papers were delivered at the Midwest Political Science Association conference, including, “Where and Why Do Journalists Fact-Check.” The paper contends that reporters now fact-check politicians more than ever. One co-author describes it as an “explosion” that coincides with an obvious growth in the coverage of national politics.

“Every single elite organization engages in visible fact checking of politics,” Lucas Graves of the University of Wisconsin told a small audience on Thursday as he sketched the study’s preliminary findings.

“There are scores of dedicated fact-checking outlets that didn’t exist even five years ago.”

He cited the first dedicated fact-checking site as Spinsanity, launched in 2001 by one of his co-authors, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College. Read more

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Plagiarism questions at Chicago paper owned by a state legislator

Better Government Association

Illinois state Sen. Steven M. Landek (D)

Illinois state Sen. Steven M. Landek (D)

The Better Government Association (BGA), a Chicago-based investigative journalism nonprofit, has accused the editors of the Desplaines Valley News of plagiarizing numerous stories in a series of unsigned editorials. The co-owners of the paper are Illinois state Sen. Steven M. Landek (D) and former Chicago Sun-Times editorial page editor Mark Hornung, who resigned from that position in 1995 after being accused of plagiarism.

In the article published yesterday, reporters with the BGA claimed that 14 editorials published in the suburban weekly contained similar or identical language found in stories published by other news outlets around the country, including The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and seven additional journals and web sites. Read more

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How the Rouhani Meter fact-checks Iran’s president from 6,000 miles away

This article was republished with permission by the Duke Reporters’ Lab. Daniel Carp is a senior researcher at Duke University.

The capital of Iran’s fact-checking movement is not in Tehran, but Toronto.

When Farhad Souzanchi wanted to promote government accountability in his home country of Iran and track the campaign promises of President Hassan Rouhani, his only choice was to open an office in Canada, more than 6,000 miles away. For the last 18 months, the Rouhani Meter — a unique fact-checking website because it is run remotely from another country — has broken new ground in fact-checking journalism.

Since Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as Iran’s seventh president Aug. 3, 2013, Souzanchi and has team have been tracking and updating a list of promises made during Rouhani’s campaign and the first 100 days of presidency. Read more

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Quartz experiment: Shades of gray distinguish facts from hearsay

As of Sunday night, there remained many unknown elements about the over-the-top subscription service that HBO will launch this year. CEO Richard Plepler confirmed back in October that the premium cable channel would offer the service in 2015. But what would it be called, when would it launch, and on what device(s)?

Quartz writer Adam Epstein wanted to do a story that summarized what was confirmed, likely to be true and as yet unknown about the HBO service. The challenge was to mix information with three different levels of confirmation in a way that readers could understand, while not ruining the flow of the article.

“I had the idea for the piece after browsing Reddit and seeing that despite there being a ton of interest in the upcoming service, there was still some misinformation floating around,” Epstein said by email. Read more

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UK Guardian retracts key parts of Whisper stories

Wall Street Journal | Guardian

Last October, the UK Guardian ran a contentious story alleging that managers of Whisper, a mobile app that is designed to enable users to send messages anonymously, learned that the paper was investigating them and rewrote their terms of service and privacy policies, in possible violation of federal law. Today, the newspaper issued a “clarification” to its original story, writing that the company’s managers had in fact rewrote its terms of service two months earlier, before the newspaper began its investigation.

Guardian reporters Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe claimed that Whisper was encouraging its users to share personal data with the company with the tacit expectation that Whisper would keep this information private, when in fact it was sharing some information with the United States Department of Defense. Read more

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The lesson from the dress color debate that every journalist needs to know

dress

Yesterday’s insane Internet debate over the color of a dress offers a critical lesson that every journalist must incorporate into their daily work.

This lesson has nothing to do with viral content, fashion, BuzzFeed, social media, the future of media, Tumblr, or audience engagement.

Many of us looked at a very simple photo of a dress and saw something different. This had nothing to do with intelligence, experience, fashion sense or any other personal characteristic.

We are all at the mercy of our brains and its cognitive processes. Our eyes took in the information in front of us, our brains processed it, and in many cases it gave us the wrong answer. But the fact that it was coming from our brain meant that it seemed like exactly the right answer. Read more

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Move quickly, keep it simple and other tips for debunking

I recently completed a research project that saw me spend several months studying how news organizations handle online rumors and unverified claims. I also examined best practices for debunking online misinformation. This work, which was the focus of my fellowship with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, is collected in a report I published this week.

It examines the human factors that drive rumors, the challenge of debunking online misinformation, and it provides a data-driven look at the bad practices that cause news websites to spread dubious rumors, and to play a role in disseminating misinformation. Identifying the challenges and problems in this area also helped me formulate a set of recommendations for newsrooms. This guidance can help journalists do a better job of offering debunkings that can spread the truth. Read more

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Report: Online media are more a part of the problem of misinformation ‘than they are the solution’

On Tuesday evening, Craig Silverman will present his report for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, where he is a fellow. In the more than 100-page paper entitled “Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content,” Silverman examines the role online media plays in spreading rumors and hoaxes. In the report, Silverman, adjunct faculty for Poynter, writes:

Too often news organizations play a major role in propagating hoaxes, false claims, questionable rumors, and dubious viral content, thereby polluting the digital information stream. Indeed some so-called viral content doesn’t become truly viral until news websites choose to highlight it. In jumping on unverified information and publishing it alongside hedging language, such as “reportedly” or “claiming,” news organizations provide falsities significant exposure while also imbuing the content with credibility.

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Veterans force NBC’s Brian Williams to apologize

NBC News anchor Brian Williams said on the evening broadcast Wednesday that he made a mistake when he said on air last week that he had been in a military helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in the early days of the American invasion of Iraq 12 years ago.

On Friday, Williams had told a story on air about a veteran he met in Iraq. They stayed in touch over the years and Williams invited the soldier to a hockey game. At the game, they were surprised that the game announcer told the crowd about the chance encounter after Williams’ chopper was shot down.

Williams said on the air:

“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Read more

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The year in media errors and corrections 2014

Correction of the Year

This New York Times correction combines Kimye, butts and a writer treating a fake news website and a fake radio station as real. Bravo:

An earlier version of this column was published in error. That version included what purported to be an interview that Kanye West gave to a Chicago radio station in which he compared his own derrière to that of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Mr. West’s quotes were taken, without attribution, from the satirical website The Daily Currant. There is no radio station WGYN in Chicago; the interview was fictitious, and should not have been included in the column.

Runner Up

The Sun (U.K.) offered a correction that detailed just how ridiculous their original “reporting” was:

In an article ‘London Bridge IS Falling Down’ (16 June) we stated that the iconic bridge, now a tourist attraction in Arizona, was falling into disrepair and could soon be bulldozed.

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