Editorial Standards and Ethics Policies
When MediaWise was first imagined, it aimed to teach 1 million American teenagers how to tell fact from fiction online, with half coming from underserved or low-income communities. By May 2020, MediaWise’s work has been seen on social media by more than 10 million viewers and has expanded to include young voters heading to the polls for the first time in 2020 with the launch of the MediaWise Voter Project, and will soon expand further to include MediaWise for Seniors.
MediaWise has created multiple channels and outlets to reach the largest audience possible, including:
- Influencer-created content, such as partnered videos on YouTube;
- A strong social media presence on all platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok;
- Videos and text-only fact-check stories produced by our reporters and the Teen Fact-Checking Network;
- In-person and virtual presentations at high schools and colleges across the U.S.;
- In-depth information about MediaWise and its mission on Poynter’s website;
- Providing information to local and national media organizations about MediaWise’s work and mission happening in their area;
- A network of Campus Correspondents at college campuses all over the U.S. who teach their peers the tools to tell fact from fiction online.
As MediaWise expands with more content types, platforms and initiatives, each will be held to the same high standards of editorial excellence. These standards and guidelines will be continually updated as needed. Any additional questions can be sent to MediaWise Program Manager and Editor Katy Byron or MediaWise Editorial Director Kristyn Wellesley.
MEDIAWISE EDITORIAL PILLARS
MediaWise maintains five pillars of high editorial standards which all content must adhere to:
- FACTUALLY ACCURATE: All MediaWise content must be as reliable and factually accurate as possible at the time of publication, with all sources and source material vetted to the best of our abilities.
- Our reporting process includes the following:
- Thorough online keyword research;
- Searching online databases;
- Reviewing publications, academic studies and other original data and documentation.
- In cases where a MediaWise fact check must cite reports from news media that rely on unnamed or unattributed sources (usually due to the extreme newsworthiness of the report), we note that we cannot independently verify their reporting. The use of any resources that rely on unnamed or unattributed sources must be approved by either MediaWise Program Manager and Editor Katy Byron or MediaWise Editorial Director Kristyn Wellesley.
- Our general rule of thumb — Better to wait and be right than rush and be wrong.
- Corrections: No one is perfect and mistakes will happen. MediaWise issues corrections with the appropriate transparency as quickly as possible if we determine an error has occurred. If the correction is debilitating to the story, we will consider removing it and issuing a correction in the relevant format in an attempt to reach the same audience who saw the initial story. These instances will be handled on a case-by-case basis and must be approved by MediaWise Project Manager and Editor Katy Byron or MediaWise Editorial Director Kristyn Wellesley. Depending on the platform on which the fact check was originally published, corrections may be handled differently to address those platform differences:
- Instagram Story: We will post a correction on the Instagram story, add it to the corresponding highlight and include text with the correction information in the related feed post (if there is one).
- Instagram feed post: We will add text to the feed post caption with details of the correction.
- IGTV: We will add text to the feed post caption with details of the correction.
- Twitter: We will add a tweet to the thread of the original tweet. If the error was particularly egregious, we’ll also publish a new tweet linking to the tweet with the error.
- Facebook: We will post a correction on our page and link to the story with the error, or if possible, edit the original post and note that the post has been updated.
- YouTube: We will add a correction to the video description box.
- Our reporting process includes the following:
- MISSION-DRIVEN: All MediaWise content seeks to serve the overall project mission of teaching the digital literacy skills necessary to sort fact from fiction online. This is the common thread that connects all MediaWise initiatives. MediaWise strives to reach our core audiences where they are, focusing on social media platforms and in-person and virtual trainings as our primary means of connecting with our audience:
- YouTube: With 2 billion monthly active users as of January 2020, YouTube is central to the MediaWise project’s influencer strategy. According to recent Pew studies, 90% of 18-24-year-olds, 85% of 13-17-year-olds, 70% of 50–64-year-olds, and 38% of 65+-year-olds consume content using the platform.
- Instagram: With over 1 billion monthly active users as well, Instagram is the central hub for the MediaWise TFCN and events coverage content because of its popularity with those target audiences – 75% of 18-24-year-olds and 72% of 13-17-year-olds – although Instagram is a growing platform among our MediaWise for Seniors audience as well with 23% of 50–64-year-olds and 8% of 65+-year-olds consuming content on the platform.
- Other platforms: MediaWise utilizes not only known platforms such as Facebook and Twitter but it also experiments with growing platforms like TikTok, Pinterest and LinkedIn. We go where our audience goes.
- AUDIENCE AWARENESS: MediaWise’s key audiences have different needs and as such, all MediaWise content should be planned for and positioned to connect with the intended audience: the Teen Fact-Checking Network is geared toward U.S. teenagers ages 13-18 years old, MediaWise Voter Project content is aimed at first-time U.S. voters ages 18-24 years old; and MediaWise for Seniors content is aimed at U.S. adults ages 55+. MediaWise always keeps our audience in mind first and we are here to best authentically serve them. Our goal is to be as accessible to our audience as possible and it applies to everything we do, including:
- Being as authentic as we can be in our language online and during presentations – be ourselves and encourage them to be themselves as well;
- Keeping in mind which audience we are trying to reach and on which platform we are using.
- SAFE COMMUNITY: The MediaWise project aims to be a safe space, where those who seek to improve their media literacy skills can have an open and honest dialogue without fear of bullying or other disrespectful comments or feedback.
- Online comments: The MediaWise project staff is dedicated to promoting open dialogue and critiques of fact checks, but derogatory comments about a fact-checker, a MediaWise project staff member or any other member of the MediaWise community will not be tolerated. The MediaWise project staff are empowered to immediately remove any comments on our social media accounts that violate our language standards, employ racial epithets or tropes, threaten or attempt to intimidate, name-call, or disparage any community or group. MediaWise staff are also empowered to remove any comments that spread misinformation or disinformation. We reserve the right to block commenters that violate these terms, since these types of comments undermine the goals of the MediaWise project. Threats that are specific in nature will be escalated immediately to senior staff, and if necessary, local authorities (example: comments that disclose information about a MediaWise staffer or teen fact-checker that would otherwise not be known, or are threatening a specific staffer). In these instances, the comment will be removed and the user will be blocked. If a fact-check receives comments that continually violate our policies and can not be reasonably managed by the MediaWise staff, comments will be disabled for 48 hours. Following the 48 hour period, comments will be reinstated and closely monitored. If a fact-check continues to receive a large, unmanageable volume of comments that violate our policy, MediaWise will permanently disable comments on the fact-check. When a fact-check’s comments are initially disabled, MediaWise will speak with the teen fact-checker and/or guardian about concerns as well as their comfort level, and act accordingly. Any time comments are disabled on a fact-check for any of these scenarios, the fact-check description will be updated explaining the reason why, and link to our editorial standards for additional background information for the audience. We will communicate to the audience when the MediaWise team has decided to disable comments, in the description or caption. Sometimes the platforms will disable comments on fact-checks, please consult the comments policies for each platform to learn more.
- Language: The MediaWise project will avoid using foul language in our content unless the language is central to a particular fact check, such as a fact check related to a quote that includes foul language. In those cases, we will bleep or blur the foul language.
- Explicit content: The MediaWise project includes educational content and fact-checks for people of all ages. As such, we will avoid publishing content and educational materials that include sexually explicit or overly violent topics, unless they reach viral status. In those cases, that content will be handled with appropriate care and consideration and may include an advance “Viewer Discretion” warning for the audience.
- When we reach out for comment: When a significant portion of a MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network fact-check is dedicated to looking at who shared the claim, for example, a social media account owner, MediaWise staff will reach out for comment on behalf of the teen fact-checker, and include the relevant portion of their response within the published fact-check. If a response is received following publication, the response will be added to the fact-check’s description or caption and include the date of the update to the fact-check.
- NON-PARTISAN/POLITICAL NEUTRALITY: MediaWise is a nonpartisan initiative dedicated to taking a balanced approach to news and editorial content, with the sole objective of presenting the facts. MediaWise is politically neutral and does not support any candidate, party or issue. We will do our best to maintain political balance in the number of fact-checks we do. While it is important to tap into trending and relevant topics and conversations, it’s also important to be sure we are offering equal scrutiny and criticism across the political spectrum. It’s important to note that our fact-checking is not necessarily a reflection of the number of misleading stories out there supporting one side or another. We will strive to maintain balance across our own content in order to continue reaching viewers across the political spectrum.
FACT CHECK METHODOLOGY AND RATING SYSTEM
The MediaWise project prioritizes choosing fact checks that focus on issues and news that are of immediate relevance and interest to our audiences, looking for topics that are impacting and affecting them. Our fact checks strive to be engaging by focusing on teaching media literacy skills while telling a good story. We want our audience to come away with tangible tips, skills and advice for how they can identify reliable and unreliable information online.
MediaWise is founded on the mission of teaching digital media literacy and fact-checking skills in a way that allows the audience to fact check for themselves. In accordance with that mission, our unique storytelling format documents every step of each fact check, including showing all links and documents we use, screen recording Google searches, and walking the audience through how we come to our rating conclusions. We also explain why we may choose to use one source over another, paying attention to highlight how to identify credible sources. It is designed so the audience can not only replicate that particular fact check themselves but also apply the techniques used to fact check other claims they see.
MediaWise fact-checks typically fall into a few categories:
- Questionable statements: Social media users will cite a statistic or make a claim that is either wrong or missing important context.
- False news: The claims can be about anything — politics, entertainment, a fishy-sounding medical cure. Regardless of the claim’s content, false news is made-up of content that intentionally poses as news of actual events.
- Doctored images/video: Manipulated photos or videos are often shared that have been manipulated.
- Satire gone awry: We don’t fact-check websites like the Onion or Clickhole because they are satire websites. However, sometimes satire can be shared on social media without people knowing.
For every fact-check story, a rating is included that tells our audience what we concluded after fact-checking a claim. MediaWise fact-checks fall into these ratings:
- Legit. The claim, photo or video is real and the information is accurate. (Example: Are train workers lighting train tracks on fire in Chicago? Yes.) (Example: Kamala Harris did not sue ExxonMobil? Yes.)
- Mostly legit. The claim, photo or video is mostly true, but some small details are incorrect.
- Needs context. The claim, photo or video does not have all of the information needed to be fully understood and assessed. (Example: Did this teen’s lung collapse after vaping for 18 months? Maybe.)
- Mixed bag. The claim, photo or video is roughly half true/ half false.
- Mostly not legit. The claim, photo or video is mostly false, but some small details are rooted in truth.
- Not legit. The claim, photo or video is inaccurate or being taken out of context. (Example: Do your taste buds change every seven years? No.)
- Satire: The claim, photo or video used humor, irony, exaggeration, and false information to comment on current events and pop culture. It may be fake but it’s meant to be a joke.
MEDIAWISE ETHICS POLICIES
MediaWise staff strive to maintain the highest ethical journalism standards across all of its work and programs. These standards apply to all work created by MediaWise staff, interns and contractors as well as work and content created as part of the Teen Fact-Checking Network, MediaWise Voter Project (and Campus Correspondents program), MediaWise Ambassadors program ad all future work and new initiatives.
POLITICAL NEUTRALITY: The MediaWise project’s mission to teach enhanced media literacy skills seeks to present facts unaffected by agenda or biases. We recognize that unconscious bias can be powerful but with the stakes so high and the country so divided on political issues, the MediaWise team sets its own opinions aside as they work to uphold the principles of fairness and independence, steadfast in its dedication to remaining as impartial as possible and avoiding political conflicts of interest.
As such, the MediaWise team – including staff, interns and members of the TeenFact Checking Network and Campus Correspondents – is not permitted to:
Campaign, rally, march or fundraise for a political party or candidate;
- Donate to a candidate or campaign, political action group or political party;
- Express political views and commentary on social media, either in support of or opposing any candidate, political party, position or issue.
- The MediaWise team can (and should!) participate in the political process as voters as part of our responsibilities as United States citizens.
Any potential conflicts of interest should immediately be brought to the attention of MediaWise Program Manager and Editor Katy Byron and MediaWise Editorial Director Kristyn Wellesley.
DISCLOSURE OF PROJECT FUNDERS: There may be instances where MediaWise will fact-check a claim involving Google, Facebook or any of their affiliate properties. When this happens, MediaWise will disclose in the fact check that the individual company funds the MediaWise project.
GUIDELINES FOR REFERENCING STANFORD HISTORY EDUCATION GROUP MATERIALS
The MediaWise program was inspired by the research conducted by the Stanford History Education Group and its Civic Online Reasoning curriculum. Any methods, techniques or phrases that a reasonable person would find unique to the Stanford History Education Group’s Civic Online Reasoning curriculum, must include attribution to Stanford History Education Group if used by MediaWise and its partners, in any form.
Reasonable attribution includes mentions or references to “the Stanford History Education Group”, “SHEG,” “Stanford” or “Civic Online Reasoning.” Unique or proprietary phrases or techniques include, but are not limited to, the “three questions are at the heart of the COR curriculum: 1) Who is behind the information? What is the evidence? What do other sources say?,” “lateral reading,” “click restraint” or references to SHEG’s research studying fact-checkers.
Any errors in the application of this policy will be corrected if it is within MediaWise’s control to correct them. Poynter cannot take responsibility for attribution by third parties who are not our partners, like press outlets.
Last updated: March 29, 2021