Checking facts? Try these tips first

In this election cycle, news organizations fact checking the presidential candidates — particularly Donald Trump — has become a more prominent feature in coverage.

It can be a tricky skill. So Jane Elizabeth, a senior research project manager  at the American Press Institute who teaches an accountability journalism course and publishes API’s weekly fact-checking newsletter, and Anna Orso, a reporter at Billy Penn, which partners with Politifact to fact check Pennsylvania politics, shared the following tips:

1. Put together a network of experts.

Billy Penn has a network of experts, Orso said, who assist journalists when writing their analyses. “There’s a whole lot I can do with background information, with past statements made by candidates (and) with data,” Orso said, “but there’s nothing better than an impartial expert in the field saying, ‘No, that person’s wrong.’” Make sure to contact experts in the industries of the fact-check claim. You can even input expert sources into a database for easy access.

2. Be consistent and non-partisan.

Elizabeth emphasizes consistency in fact-checking because the biggest complaint fact-checkers get is bias. If people are arguing over partisan coverage, they are unlikely to pay attention to the actual fact-check analyses. To approach this concern, reporters should be consistent in choosing which claims to check and explain why they choose it. For those who want non-partisan, academically based fact-checks, FactCheck.org is a good resource, Elizabeth said.

3. Use guidelines.

Reporters doing fact-checks hadn’t anticipated Trump or the amount of fact-checking needed for this election cycle, Elizabeth said. So although more newsrooms are doing fact-checking, not all have thought it through. API reaches out to these fact-checkers to suggest best practices and guidelines, Elizabeth said. To get a copy of the API’s “Guidelines and Instructions for Producing Fact Checks: A Newsroom Model,” email Elizabeth at jane.elizabeth@pressinstitute.org.

4. Check if it’s already been said.

When dealing with real-time fact checking, the candidates’ talking points are often recycled, or they are restating a claim said by someone else. In that case, Orso checks to see if they had already fact checked the claim — “and a lot of times, we have.”