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Guest Post: API seeks Best-Practices and New Tools for Fact-Checking

By Jane Elizabeth / 2014 July 22nd

The practice of fact-checking is a core function of journalism in the 21st century. As American Press Institute (API) executive director Tom Rosenstiel argues: “Nothing comes closer to journalism’s essential purpose than helping citizens know what is true and what is not. And in an age when information is in greater supply, it is more important, not less, that there are trusted and skilled sources to help citizens sort through misinformation.”

During the 2014 U.S. election cycle, fact-checking projects emerged in print, television, radio and online newsrooms around the country in greater numbers than ever before. Dr. Michelle Amazeen, a Rider University professor and API researcher, found that mentions of “fact-checking” in media increased more than 75 percent between 2011 and 2012 alone.

From this year’s primaries to the general election in 2016, API’s fact-checking project, launched earlier this year with support from The Democracy Fund, is working to improve and develop fact-checking best practices and trainings for newsrooms that want to provide deeper coverage for their audiences. In fact, API’s new emphasis on fact-checking excellence is already reaching beyond U.S. borders. Kirsten Smith, a journalist in Ottawa, Canada, contacted API in May with a request for assistance for her “small newsroom with limited resources” to prepare for the 2014 municipal elections and the 2015 national election. “Have you a tip sheet or primer for a small scale fact check program?” In fact, API has developed a big-picture tip sheet precisely for requests like this, and we will be developing in-depth training programs based on upcoming research.

API also has developed blog features, convened a meeting of its researchers and media, participated in the world’s first international fact-checking conference, and is discussing additional funding sources with organizations interested in promoting better fact-checking. An important initial function of the project is to compile, curate and examine the latest news from the fact-checking front. Features include:

A major part of the initiative brings together six experienced scholars from around the U.S. and the U.K. to work on projects designed to examine and improve the practice of fact-checking. Their topics include: the impact of fact-checking on political rhetoric; the effectiveness of rating systems like the Washington Post’s “Pinnochios;” readers’ changing perceptions of fact-checking; and a survey of journalists on the prevalence of fact-checking. The group joined API’s fact-checking project, announced in February, with plenty of experience in the study of information, misinformation, and how facts are processed. Here are the scholars, with a brief description of their work for API:

Michelle Amazeen, Rider University. Amazeen, a Temple University graduate who holds a Ph.D. in mass media and communication, will study the effectiveness of political fact-checking rating systems (such as the Washington Post’s “pinnochios”). On Twitter @commscholar.

Lucas Graves, University of Wisconsin. Graves, who holds a Ph.D. in journalism from Columbia University, has written about fact-checking topics for CJR and other publications. He will study the effects of fact-checking on journalistic practice and is part of the team working on the study of rating systems. On Twitter @gravesmatter.

Ashley Muddiman, University of Wyoming. Muddiman, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, is part of the team that will study the effectiveness of rating systems. She also is involved in the Engaging News Project. On Twitter @ashleymuddiman.

Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College. Nyhan, who holds a Ph.D. from Duke University, will assist on the project on the effects of fact-checking and a project which will examine how attitudes toward political fact-checking change over the course of a campaign. On Twitter @BrendanNyhan.

Jason Reifler, University of Exeter, UK. Reifler also holds a Ph.D. from Duke University. He will work with the teams studying the effects of fact-checking and changing attitudes during the course of a campaign. On Twitter @jasonreifler.

Emily Thorson, George Washington University. Thorson holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She will examine how contextual information in news coverage can minimize misperceptions, and will work with the team studying the effectiveness of ratings systems. On Twitter @emilythorson.

The American Press Institute will combine the researchers’ work with the work of other scholars and API’s own research to identify what kinds of fact-checking are most effective at stopping misleading rhetoric and are most informative to citizens. In the second year of the program, API will conduct workshops and meetings and develop other resources aimed at supporting news organizations interested in fact-checking on the eve of the 2016 election cycle.

Have questions? Topics you’d like to see tackled? A good fact-checked story of your own? Contact me at jane.elizabeth (at) pressinstitute.org, 571-366-1116, @JaneEliz.

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