Here's what you should consider before using a fact-check rating system

One of the hallmarks of fact-checking is to demonstrate whether a claim has been corroborated by facts. Many fact-checking organizations use a rating system when they offer a verdict for a claim they have researched, according to a survey by the Duke Reporters' Lab.

Here are some pros and cons to implementing a rating system, such as the Pinocchio scale used by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker.

Advantages

  • Using a rating makes the article clearer to readers. Readers are bombarded with information and will appreciate being able to get directly to the point.
  • Having to assign a rating forces the reporter to reach a conclusion. Sometimes the fact-checker will struggle to adjudicate the veracity of a claim. But that is precisely why readers appreciate this form of journalism.
  • Using a scale helps build your brand and audience. Usually the most recognizable element of a fact-checking operation is its rating system. The rating also tends to travel well on social media.
  • A rating offers readers something light and engaging to go with the substantive, often intense, analysis.

Disadvantages

  • Some fact-checks will not perfectly fit any of the ratings. Two falsehoods may be very different from one another in terms of importance, yet get the same rating.
  • The difference between what is "almost true" and what is "half true" isn't science, even if each fact-checker at the organization tries to follow the methodology closely. Fact-checkers might find it hard to maintain consistency over hundreds of fact-checks.
  • Using a rating adds significant work to the editorial process. It is definitely simpler to publish findings without determining a rating.
  • Giving ratings is a more confrontational approach and will result in more criticism from readers and fact-checked politicians than simply discussing the facts and figures. The rating may distract critics from the analysis itself.

Taken from Fact-checking: How to Improve Your Skills in Accountability Journalism, a self-directed course by Alexios Mantzarlis and Jane Elizabeth at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    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 position as marketing communications manager.

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