How journalists verify (New research details how journalists verify information - Poynter)
“There’s no hard and fast rule about any of this stuff,” one interviewee told the authors. “You have to exercise your judgment all the time.”
‘‘[T]o me, verification is much more rooted in the actual reporting process, step by step and looping back in upon itself,” said another.
Among the interviewees there were those who applied a disciplined approach to verification.
“Some arrived for the interview armed with indexed binders full of source materials; some had clearly refreshed their memories of the reporting by reviewing their notes, and related articles, before their meetings with us; one checked additional facts and followed-up via email,” the researchers write.
A commitment to verification may be shared across journalists, but this research suggests any shared norms are combined with variations in practice.
“Methods for ensuring accuracy varied greatly, with some factual statements relayed, with or without attribution, based on a single subject’s word, while others were rigorously triangulated,” the authors write. “Strongly idealistic statements about the need for verification were often made during the course of the same interview as were indications of methodological ambiguity.”
In terms of specifics, here are a few findings from the research:
- On checking names: ”An almost universal practice among participants is asking sources to spell their own name to ensure correct spelling, either at the beginning or the end of the interview.” Some journalists also check names against official sources.
- On offering sources pre-publication review: “Despite some evidence in the literature that partial pre-publication review is not the taboo it used to be (Stoltzfus 2006; Carr 2012), our subjects displayed a strong sense that it was a discouraged practice.”
- On quotes: “…methods for checking the accuracy of quotes vary greatly. Some reporters routinely record and transcribe interviews, while some record but rarely transcribe and others rarely use recorders at all. Some check quotes against tapes only if there is a specific concern, such as difficulty hearing, or the threat of libel litigation.”
- On a source’s personal history: “Facts relating to a source’s personal history are considered not to require verification … or are simply not verified because there is no practical way to do so.”