Meet the 2017 International Fact-Checking Network fellows

Two journalists from Serbia and Turkey have been awarded the 2017 International Fact-Checking Network fellowships.

Milka Domanovic, a journalist for fact-checking platform Istinomer in Belgrade, will travel to the United States to embed with PolitiFact, while Gülin Çavuş, an editor at Turkish verification platform Teyit.org, is headed to Paris to work with France 24 Observers.

The fellowships, which are organized by the International Fact-Checking Network and were launched last year, cover up to $2,500 in costs for journalists to embed with other fact-checking organizations around the world for a few weeks. The goal of the program is to help fact-checking organizations exchange best practices and increase their impact.

Domanovic’s project will be focused on how fact-checking organizations can grow their audiences and build trust among people in more rural areas. Her pursuit of that problem will take her to Charleston, West Virginia, the third stop of PolitiFact’s Knight-funded outreach campaign to extend fact-checking to more conservative areas of the United States. (PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns). Domanovic will also spend time at PolitiFact’s offices in Washington, D.C.

“I have this feeling when talking to people from Serbia who are not from the capital that all the mainstream media are focusing mainly on high officials and politicians, and they’re not considering local problems,” she said. “I believe it is going to be a similar experience (in the U.S.).”

Domanovic first came up with the idea to work with PolitiFact’s tour after hearing about it at the IFCN’s Global Fact 4 summit in Madrid this past summer. She said it’s the center of her project because it takes aim at a problem many news organizations, including Istinomer, have around the world — how do they build their audience while also maintaining credibility and trust?

In Serbia, there is a divide between urban and rural citizens when it comes to media consumption, similar to that which exists in the U.S., Domanovic said. The problem is heightened by the fact that the current president (a largely symbolic role), Aleksandar Vučić, used to be the prime minister, and therefore is often one of the only politicians making regular public statements. That makes it hard for fact-checkers like Istinomer to do their jobs without looking biased.

Domanovic hopes to take what she learns during her collaboration with PolitiFact back to Belgrade, where she will help organize visits to communities outside the urban core in order to build more trust in Istinomer.

“I believe this is a global problem. With facts, it looks like it should be easy — someone said something and it’s wrong. But it’s not that easy,” she said. “That’s why I was so interested in this. Because here in Serbia, Istinomer is quite established and credible among one circle of people, but I feel we can do much more and there are many more people who would like it and would trust it.”

Meanwhile, in Paris, Çavuş’s project will be focused on how international cooperation between fact-checkers can improve coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis and political Islam. By working with France 24 Observers, she hopes to meld Teyit’s fact-checking work with the organization’s verification tools — a conversation that also started at Global Fact this past summer. The two have already worked together in publishing an article about false images of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

“I really appreciated their work before, and sometimes we ask some questions from the journalists or editors from Observers,” Çavuş said. “The other thing is that there are so many Turkish people living in France. It’s a good step for building a community for both Teyit and Observers.”

Çavuş sees a partnership between the two organizations as beneficial to educating the ongoing discussion of migration in Europe, which has been marred by online misinformation and fakery. In both Turkey and France the issue of refugees has inflamed political discussion, and hoaxes about crimes perpetrated by them are fairly common on social media. Çavuş said that by comparing notes and exchanging ideas on how to stop the flow of fake news about Islam, both Teyit and Observers’ work will improve.

“It’s a really hard balance because outside government people make such lies about Syrian people, and they feed the racist claims,” Çavuş said. “If we work together in another country, people think it’s all our problem — not just Turkish people’s problem.”

After her fellowship, Çavuş hopes to take what she learns at Observers back to Teyit, where she will help incorporate the best practices into an organizational software called Dubito. The goal is to eventually add a crowdsourcing component so that readers can send in tips about refugee-related misinformation.

“If we crowdsourced this software, other people could help us more to find evidence, and maybe more people could share evidence with us,” she said. “We’re trying to help Syrian people and trying to stop these lies.”

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