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Fact Checking, Verification & Fake News: Be Skeptical, It's Your Job.

Be Skeptical as a Reporter or a News Consumer

As a journalist skepticism is your job. As a citizen skepticism is a survival skill.

Check out this ad campaign created by Mark Graham (CD, Art Director) with Josh Tavlin (CD) and John McNeil (CD) for Brill's Content: Skepticism is a Virtue. [Thanks to Mr. Graham for granting us permission to use this brilliant graphic].


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


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

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:

Always ask yourself these questions when trying to verify information:

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

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.

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

First Draft News Free Verification Courses

Click on the "choose course unit" button.

First Draft News is a group of news media partners dedicated to helping reporters find and verify content that emerges online. Their site includes training guides for social media news gathering and verification -- like the above video, for example.

Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers...and other people who care about facts, by Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver and head of the Digital Polarization Initiative of the American Democracy Project.

To navigate in this book, click on the down arrow next to contents

Here are some links to lists of fake news sites:

OpenSources "a curated resource for assessing online information sources. Websites in this resource range from credible news sources to misleading and outright fake websites. Headed by Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College."

Field Guide to Fake news Purveyors,

Fake News Websites, Wikipedia

Field Guide to Fake News Purveyors,


Washington Post's Fact Checker

Univision’s Detector de Mentiras (Lie Detector)

AP Fact Check


NPR Politics Fact Check

Bellingcat - Crowd-sourced investigations, & training citizen journalists in conflict zones

Duke Reporters' Lab Global Fact-Checking Sites

SciCheck’s SciCheck feature focuses exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy.

FlackCheck political literacy companion site to the award-winning The site provides resources designed to help viewers recognize flaws in arguments in general and political ads in particular. Video resources point out deception and incivility in political rhetoric.

SourceWatch (Center for Media and Democracy) profiles the activities of front groups, PR spinners, industry-friendly experts, industry-funded organizations, and think tanks trying to manipulate public opinion on behalf of corporations or government.

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 (This is a link to a lesson plan).

Who Me? Biased? A Video Series from The New York Times.

Twenty Ways to Cultivate an Open Mind 

from Overcoming Bias: A Journalist’s Guide to Culture & Context by Sue Ellen Christian

Fake news is information posing as news, which has not been verified and is not true. It could be clickbait, rumours, hoaxes, propaganda, or satire. Today fake news is overwhelmingly web-driven, but fake news is nothing new

Check out this explainer on Fake News and the Spread of Disinformation from Journalist's Resource, from the Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media Politics and Public Policy.

Timeline of Key moments in the latest fake news debate from Claire Wardle at FirstDraftNewsFirstDraftNews works with its media partners to improve online news verification, reporting and sharing.

2016's top fake news stories were collected by C|net from the fact-checking sites SnopesFactcheck,org and Politifact.

Who's reading fake news? According to the Jumpshot Tech Blog:

  • Facebook referrals accounted for 50 percent of total traffic to fake news sites and 20 percent of total traffic to reputable news sites.
  • The oldest age group analyzed, 65 and over, was the most likely to click on fake and hyperpartisan news.
  • Millennials are 16 percent less likely to click on fake news from Facebook compared to the rest of the population.

Data on Facebook’s fake news problem, The Jumpshot Tech Blog, Nov. 29, 2016

Newmark J-School's Fake News Detection Checklist

Don’t be fooled by fake news, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who says?
    • Scrutinize the publication sharing the story, and the sources they are quoting. Are they even giving a source? Go to original source.
  • How do they know? What makes them an authoritative source?
    • Search the website’s “About” page.
    • Check the Center for Media & Democracy’s page.
  • Is the source biased?  
    • Does the story only present one side of a debate?
    • Check (debunks conservative media) and (debunks liberal media).
  • Does this news turn up on any trusted sites?
    • Search fact-checking sites like to see if the claim has been proven or debunked.
    • Here’s a custom search engine of fact-checking sites, which you can search all at once:
    • Search reliable news sources to see what they are reporting on the issue or topic. 
  • Do a Google search to see whether or how the news is being reported on legitimate journalism sites (but be wary of mistaking quantity for quality – fake news tends to proliferate).
  • Do a Google Scholar search to see what scholars and researchers say about this claim.
  • What don't I know?
    • Do other reliable sources challenge these facts?
    • What other facts are being left out?
  • Is this story making me upset or angry?
    • If so, it's probably designed to target your emotions and confirmation biases, and to bypass your intellect. Take a breath and verify before you share it.
  • Does the story sound too crazy or outlandish to be true?
  • Then don't believe it, unless you've checked it out first with other, reliable sources.

E.S.C.A.P.E. Junk News from Newseum acronym to help students remember six key concepts for evaluating information.

Show your work: The new terms for trust in journalism Via PressThink a project of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, is written by Jay Rosen. 11 ways to use transparency as "the primary means of trust production."

The Filter Bubble is Eli Pariser's theory that personalization on websites and social media we use, creates a filter bubble sending us only information, news and suggestions that confirm our views and likes, and distancing us from other information.

The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think, by Eli Pariser

Tools to pop your filter bubble from The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion, The Atlantic:

  • Hi From the Other Side will introduce you to someone who voted for the candidate you voted against in the federal election. Simply fill out a questionnaire and the organization will pair you with someone with whom you can “engage in civil conversation.” The goal, says the website, is “not to convince, but to understand.”
  • Escape Your Bubble will also help you understand the other side. It’s a Chrome plugin that injects informative articles into your Facebook feed, meant to highlight issues you might not think about.
  • The Echo Chamber Club handpicks articles to challenge liberal viewpoints, and sends them out in an email newsletter.
  • Allsides is a news organization that views all journalists as inherently biased. “In journalism school, they teach you how to report in an unbiased manner, and some journalists do a pretty good job of that,” CEO John Gable told Forbes shortly after the website launched in 2012. “But frankly, we think that’s bullshit. We don’t think it’s possible to be unbiased.” Allsides gathers contrasting viewpoints on the news of the day, spanning the political spectrum.

Additional resources:

4 ways to burst the ‘filter bubble’ isolating you from different viewpoints

How can Facebook and its users burst the ‘filter bubble’?

How to improve your Facebook feed, so we see the next Trump coming

12 Ways to Break Your Filter Bubble and Gain Diverse Perspectives

Changing Behavior Through Education

We can empower students and readers through education/advocacy about the need for truth in politics, and the efforts to use fake news to destabilizer our democracy, so that they change the way they engage with news, and take steps to verify what they read and share:

From Towards a Post-Lies Future: Fighting "Alternative Facts" and "Post-Truth" Politics  by Gleb Tsipursky in The Humanist.

Since ancient Greece, truth in politics has been vital for a democracy to function properly. Citizens need to care about and know the reality of political affairs, at least in broad terms, to make wise decisions regarding which politicians and policies to support. Otherwise, what reason do politicians have to care about serving the true interests of the citizenry? They can simply use emotional manipulation and lies to procure and stay in power, paving the way for corruption and authoritarianism

Indeed, truth in politics is a common good just like clean air and water, and the pollution of truth will devastate our political system just as environmental pollution devastates our planet and our physical health. Fortunately, we can learn from the successes of the environmental movement. It started with small groups of motivated and informed people engaging in sustained education and advocacy. As a result of these efforts, regular citizens increasingly changed their everyday behavior through recycling, repurposing, and composting, while politicians passed pro-environmental legislation such as the Clean Air Act

The protruth movement will require early advocates to act from the same kind of marginalized political position as early environmental activists, fighting both against the political status quo and the tendency of our brains toward lazy thinking.

The News Integrity Initiative 

The News Integrity Initiative at the CUNY J-School is a $14 million fund supporting efforts to connect journalists, technologists, academic institutions, non-profits, and other organizations from around the world to foster informed and engaged communities, combat media manipulation, and support inclusive, constructive, and respectful civic discourse.

The fund is seeded with grants from a coalition of partners, which currently include Facebook, Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Ford Foundation, AppNexus, Knight Foundation, Tow Foundation, Betaworks, Mozilla, and Democracy Fund.

Check the links below:

Latest research on fake news and the spread of misinformation - from Journalist's Resource from Harvard Shorenstein Center

Real news about fake news - from NiemanLab

Fact-Checking Research Database - from Poynter Institute 

Community Engagement & Social Journalism

According to Carrie Brown-Smith, Social journalism director at Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY: Social journalism is about finding new ways to serve communities. To recast journalism as a service that helps communities meet their goals and solve problems.Listening to a community: understanding and empathizing with its needs and learning how to help a community share its own knowledge. 

Here's Carrie's list of Best Resources on Community Engagement and Social Journalism.

According to Jennifer Preston, Vice President for Journalism, Knight Foundation: "Quality journalism is a buttress against the torrent of fake news we've seen explode in the past year, and it can help rebuild the diminishing trust many people have in society's core institutions...At Knight, we are supporting projects to help journalists and news organizations build trust with their audience by engaging more directly with community residents."  5 Questions For...Philanthropy News Digest