Skip to main content

Fact Checking, Verification & Fake News: Fact-Checking

Our Code of Ethics

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states that journalists must "seek truth and report it."

There's "no other job where you get paid to tell the truth...we are detectives for the people." The late, great investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, in his last column for the Village Voice. 

It is because “journalism is a discipline of verification,”[1] that journalists consider the commitment to verification and accuracy a “strategic ritual” and part of their “professional identity,” which is “something that legitimizes a journalist’s social role as being demonstrably different from other communicators.”[2] A devotion to accuracy is the value that journalists add to issues and stories in the information ecosystem. Barbara Gray, Newmark J-SchoolThe Emerald Handbook of Modern Information Management, p 421

[1] Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2014). The elements of journalism: what newspeople should know and the public should expect. New York: Three Rivers Press. 98. [2] Shapiro, I., Brin, C., Bédard-Brûlé, I., & Mychajlowycz, K. (2013). Verification as a Strategic Ritual: How journalists retrospectively describe processes for ensuring accuracy. Journalism Practice, 7(6), 657-673. 669.

Fact checking will bulletproof your reporting

Always Ask Yourselves These Questions

Always ask yourself these questions when trying to verify information:

  • "Who says?"
  • "How do they know?"
  • "Are they biased?"
  • "What don't I know?"

Verifiable Information

What Do I Check?

  • proper names
  • place names
  • references to time, distance, date, season
  • physical descriptions
  • references to the sex of anyone described 
  • quotations (and facts within quotes)
  • any argument or narrative that depends on fact

Where do I fact check?

  • Go to the primary source when possible. Using secondary sources like articles can perpetuate errors.
  • Use your university library’s, your news organization’s, or your public library’s electronic and print resources.
  • Search databases of news and journal articles, like LexisNexis or ScienceDirect, which aren’t accessible on the web, but are available in libraries.
  • Contact an expert - but check them out
  • Google Scholar
  • Google Books
  • Open data portals
  • Reference books
  • Find a stakeholder - someone who's interested in the same thing you are

Common Errors

Common Errors

  • numbers and statistics (mixing up “billions” & “millions”)
  • names of people, titles, locations
  • ages
  • historical facts
  • superlatives like “only,” “first” and “most”
  • dates

Frequent Sources of Error

  • working from memory
  • making assumptions
  • second-hand sources

Source: Carroll, Brian. Writing and Editing for Digital Media. Routledge: 2014.

Accuracy Checklist(s) for Reporters

Use this Newmark J-School Accuracy Checklist for Reporters

Make an Accuracy Checklist a part of your reporting process


Some other good checklists to use:

Fact-checking guides relating to politics:

Understanding Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias

"subconscious tendency to seek and interpret information and other evidence in ways that affirm our existing beliefs, ideas, expectations, and/or hypotheses. Therefore, confirmation bias is both affected by and feeds our implicit biases. It can be most entrenched around beliefs and ideas that we are strongly attached to or that provoke a strong emotional response." Source: Facing History and Ourselves 


How to Thwart Your Confirmation Bias

  • “*Counter-argue your story hypothesis,” or source’s assertion.
  • Actively seek out contrary information.
  • Rigorously test and verify every fact or assertion of fact before you publish, so you’ll be able to stand by the accuracy of your work later.

From Twenty ways to cultivate an open mind, From Overcoming Bias, A Journalist's Guide to culture & context