February 22, 2017

The simple but frustrating truth is that facts alone are not enough to convince people. Even the most thorough, accurate piece of reporting might still be trumped by a poorly reasoned and false counterargument. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand how to publish persuasive factual journalism.

Here are some tips for spreading facts:

Don’t Hesitate: Act quickly to dispel and debunk myths. The longer journalists wait to challenge misinformation, the more entrenched the lies become.

Be Positive: Rather than saying “Barack Obama is not a Muslim,” say, “Barack Obama is a Christian.” Negation can help reinforce the exact things we’re attempting to debunk. It feeds into the illusion of truth.

Avoid Condemnation: Don’t personalize. It’s incredibly difficult to change a person’s closely held beliefs. Journalists need to make it comfortable for people to change their minds. Express the correct information in a positive way that appeals to your audience.

Find Credible Experts: People are more likely to change their minds if they can identify with the sources who are presenting contradictory information. Republicans will give more credence to a fellow Republican, and the same goes for Democrats. If the experts are in line with the views and values of our target audience, we have a better chance of changing minds.

Tell a Story, Show a Picture: One study found that infographics can be an effective tool for debunking false beliefs. A Nieman Journalism Lab article about the findings reported that “graphical presentation of corrections (and of controversial information in general) can be more powerful than their textual counterparts in terms of convincing people to amend their misperceptions.” Another powerful way to convince people is to utilize one of the best tools of storytelling: narrative. Building a compelling story that appeals to human emotion is a great way to capture attention and offer a convincing take on an issue.

Don’t Look Back. Remember the illusion of truth, and avoid repeating the misinformation. Debunk it and move forward, always remembering to express the accurate information in a positive formulation.

Taken from Getting It Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age, a self-directed course by Craig Silverman at Poynter NewsU. You can also join our Poynter NewsU webinar with Silverman, Investigating the Internet: How to Sniff Out Scams.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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