Ana Pastor, in Spain: ‘Citizens should be able to fact-check by themselves and also to fact-check us’

July 19, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

In 2013, the well-known Spanish television journalist Ana Pastor decided to join the fact-checking community. Inspired by PolitiFact, she hired a team and designed a show called “El Objetivo” for the TV channel LaSexta. Every Sunday night, reporters would go live on the show to fact-check politicians’ claims, as well as hoaxes that had gone viral on social media. 

Six years later, Pastor said she feels confident enough to teach others how to fact-check without worrying about competition. Her newly-launched project, Newtral Education, is geared toward empowering citizens to conduct their own fact-checking, so that they may verify claims or photos on their own and also be able to double-check the work done by fact-checkers. 

Pastor says she hopes this will help increase transparency within the practice of fact-checking, since audiences will become more familiar with the methodology and be able to hold fact-checkers and journalists accountable. 

To help launch Newtral Education, Pastor has invited the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning founder of PolitiFact, Bill Adair, to take part in a two-day conference in Madrid, Spain, next week. The meeting, which was coordinated with the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, will take place in the royal site El Escorial, and include panels about the history and future of fact-checking, which will probably nod toward automation. 

In anticipation of the conference and Newtral Education’s launch, the IFCN spoke to Pastor about what she’s most looking forward to. 

What is Newtral Education, and why did you think it was important to launch this project in Spain right now?

Newtral Education was developed by journalists and engineers who have been working at Newtral since the platform was launched (in January 2018). 

The project’s main goal is to promote the growth of critical thinking among citizens, and it’s been a while since we started offering fact-checking workshops in journalism universities as part of our effort to fight fake news. 

We think, however, that we need to go further and work with other groups. We need to reach younger people, and teach them to doubt the messages they receive at a very early age. For this reason, we have contacted many institutions and have agreed to offer some critical thinking workshops to girls and boys with topics they usually worry about — not politics, of course. 

And we are also going to work with adults that aren’t tech-savvy to help them feel more comfortable when trying to figure out if an image is false or not. 

Since January, we have offered 40 workshops and in May, the well-known Spanish journalist Itziar Bernaola, who is also a university professor, joined our staff to lead the education project. 

How many workshops are scheduled? Where will they take place?

In July, Newtral Education will visit some of Spain’s most important universities: Complutense (El Escorial), Malaga, Universidad Internacional de Andalucía and Universitat de Barcelona (El Juliols). 

In August, we will be in Universidad Autónoma de México and, in September, once more in Málaga, as well as in Santander, Valencia and Sevilla. 

Besides that, we are planning to offer some in-house workshops in our newsroom in the fall.

Who should be a Newtral Education student? What is the profile you are looking for?

We usually seek to train journalism students that are interested in data and fact-checking. 

But we have seen in our national and international meetings that there is a wide range of groups and professionals interested in learning fact-checking too: programmers, engineers, economists and also law students have enrolled in some of our past workshops to broaden their expertise.

People could think that, by teaching fact-checking techniques, you might be putting yourself at risk of building new competitors. Thoughts?

For Newtral’s staff, journalism is a public service, and fact-checking follows that same criteria. All our debunks and fact-checks are published on our website newtral.es and can be accessed on our social media. 

We also understand it is very important that citizens can fact-check by themselves and also fact-check us, our work. We understand that, by doing so, we explain how a fact-checking platform like Newtral works. 

Furthermore, in Spain, journalists haven’t received this kind of training yet, and when we need to hire talents, we face this lack of specific knowledge. Now, with our workshops, we expect to solve that too.

The conference that you have organized with Universidad Complutense de Madrid for next week (July 22 and 23) in El Escorial will have the Pulitzer Prize-winning founder of PolitiFact, Bill Adair, as a speaker. What do you expect from that conference? What can participants hope to learn?

It is a real privilege to count on Bill Adair’s presence, not only for the students but for Newtral’s team, too. Since the beginning, Politifact has served as an inspiration in the fields of fact-checking and innovation. 

Furthermore, Bill has stimulated some other non-English-speaking fact-checking projects around the world that now also serve as references for our team. 

Those who are registered for the conference at El Escorial will hear him talk about how the idea of fact-checking claims came to be, and what challenges fact-checkers will face in the 21st century, including automation.