Check the Facts

Have you ever really wondered how much effort and thought goes into checking a magazine or newspaper article? In this article, Peter Canby explains how a news paper company is run and how they deal with errors in the articles they have either published or are in the process of publishing them. First let’s start off with a clarification that “errors” in an article are not limited to grammar mistakes. Errors also cover the category of factually correct statements along with “The Talk of the Town,” and pretty much everything else that is included in the article. Everything gets double and triple checked. Canby goes on to tell the reader how things are run in the newspaper and magazine industry.

In the older days, more specifically when Canby first started working for The New Yorker, things used to progress in a linear pattern sort of way. The New Yorker was run by the editor, William Shawn. The writers would work on their articles for as long as they deemed necessary which would more than likely take a few years. After that these articles were edited and fact-checked for about two weeks or more, and then eventually published. Canby believes that it was this manner of publication that led The New Yorker to produce many successful and wonderful writings. I believe that he was absolutely correct in his hypothesis. It is to my belief that the reason these articles would have been more successful and wonderful than later articles was because the writers devoted themselves to the story. Unlike now where Canby explains that writers are treated more like servants where their assignments are already predetermined instead of choosing the topic themselves. In that Shawn era I believe that it was this process of choosing an article that made it more personal for the writer and thus made the article more interesting to read.

Canby goes more in depth to two specific stories he remembers during the Shawn-era New Yorker. The first being a story where the writer, Neil Sheehan, followed the life and story of John Paul Vann who was an army officer who readily talked to the press about military matters. The military eventually disgracefully discharged Vann to try and quiet his ill tempered remarks. However Vann used this to become third in command of the Vietnam War. Anyway Sheehan had been working with Vann on the book about him for roughly 16 year and he took his work to such a personal and devoted level that he made no mistakes in his work. When he would bring his finished article to the fact-checker they would come back to him with no changes in the entire piece. The second piece Canby recalls is like many others. It was a factual piece about a woman who was disinherited by her oldest brother when their parents died. Because it was a factual piece Shawn decided to put it on the back burner and there it stayed for the next twenty years.

When Shawn was replaced by Tina Brown as editor of The New Yorker the rate of production was altered. Brown had her writers working on articles that she determined herself in such a way that it would take only a week at most to get the story written and published. Fact checkers would work all night just to finish up their work so that the article could be published later that week.

Canby finishes his article with the methods in which checkers go about checking an article. First and foremost calling sources and going over the content of their quote without repeating the quote itself. This is because sources more often then not try to change the quote itself which is a huge hassle that can be easily avoided. Next writers were eventually asked to hand in their own personal notes about the topic at hand because when a fact checker is going through the article and hits a dead end, they can always refer back to the notes as a sort of safety net. Also eventually the note taking process became outdated as tape recorders were introduced. It seems to me that the fact-checker doesn’t get nearly enough credit as they deserve for their hard work on the final product of the article.

On a side note, I don’t know if this was done on purpose to be a funny joke but at the bottom of the article there is a correction to the article. Meaning that a fact-checker would have missed something and it had to be fixed after it was published.

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16 comments

  1. ktomiak25

    I thought this article was really interesting because not a lot of people even know that fact checking is even an occupation! My family used to joke that I should become one, but I think it is actually too stressful and tedious for me! It was interesting how fast their production sped up once the new supervisor came in, and delegated tasks to each writer instead. Also I thought it was interesting that the newspaper would even run a piece that was as old as the inheritance one was. I think it is important for bloggers to be accurate when they write about events or stories, but unless you are trying to become an incredibly famous and credible blogger about journalistic like topics, it is not so necessary to do so much research. I think common blogs are so much more laid back than major publications. If someone thinks a fact is wrong they can Google it, and maybe tell the author, but it’s not going to be as big of a deal as it would to the New Yorker or similar publication.

  2. lisak0

    I began to think more of the fact-checkers, after reading your post. You are correct; fact checkers get little to no credit. I honestly never thought of fact checkers until today (how sad). Being a journalist seems difficult enough because they have deadlines and are given specific topics, but being a fact checker seems worse! I didn’t know such a job existed. Fact checkers are really vital to articles, especially important ones by top-notch journalists working for a top-notch corporation. Without fact checkers, there will be less truth into stories. But imagine being a fact checker and having to call multiple people… when I read articles, there are so many sources and historic facts and knowledge. Wow, that’s just difficult and stressful. I always thought the fixations and the author’s side note on the bottom were just corrections the authors found while reading back on the post. Now I learned that a fact checker had to read all the information, make sure everything was truthful and accurate, and then finally submit it. It is sort of embarrassing to have corrections. If you are a prominent journalist or blogger you should always be passionate about all your stories and posts; you should always make sure to tell the truth and edit your work before finalizing it and showing it to the world. Once you publish it and then realize you made a mistake, then have to correct it…it’s just unprofessional. It shows that the author really needs a fact checker! We, as writers, should always have the instinct to revise our work before handing it in or publishing it. It starts mattering a whole lot once the corrections are repetitive!

    • gisellehernandez412

      I never really knew about fact-checkers, to be honest. I mean, obviously someone has to edit a piece and review it before it’s finalized and published but the work that goes into this was completely unknown to me. Now that I read about fact-checking though, I absolutely feel that it is essential. When a company like The New Yorker is consistantly factual and truthful, people will begin to develope faith and trust in the company. This is important for the success of a company. Maintaining this trust thus becomes a main concern which is why fact-checkers are so crucial. It’s crazy how so many people, myself included, and unaware of fact-checking and the effort that fact-checkers put into finalizing a piece. I can’t imagine how stressful that must be–if there is a mistake found after something is published, it’s the fact-checkers fault, not the writters. I feel that the writer should hold a significant amount of the blame too. Writers are also editors in a sense and they should thus review their own work very carefully. Because fact-checkers exist, I feel like it’s very possiblt that writers would essentially expoit them by being less careful with what they write because someone will have to review it anyway. I’m not sure if this happens but it seems likely to me. Anyway, I’m glad I’ve become aware of fact-checking. It makes me appreciate finailzed writing more.

  3. briellebuis

    From such a young age we are taught to check and recheck our work to avoid errors in our writing. Today, I feel like the speed that stories are published is valued much more than the quality of the writing. Because companies are constantly trying to publish first, in order to be the fastest and most updated news a lot of the time editing is over looked. Obviously some newspapers are more careful than others. Newspapers like The New York Times, which have such high standards and expectations from both writers, editors, and readers are going to be more careful with their fact checking and editing. Other sources that want to gain favoritism through speed of the story or the reporting of breaking news may care less about the quality of their work and more about just getting the story out. Either way, I think it is still important to go back and remember what we were taught when we were little to check and recheck our work for mistakes and not to simply rush through things in order to get stuff done faster.

  4. Brian

    To me, fact checking is very important to maintain the integrity of your information. This applies to anything: blogs, newpapers, radio, whatever. I have known about these fact-checkers and understand the importance of their jobs. However, just because there are fact-checkers does not make me automatically believe what is said. In my opinion, one should always be somewhat skeptical of media even if the fact-checkers do a good job. Blogs often don’t have fact checkers which is why they are not considered to be true, legitimate sources of journalism. On the other hand, “real” media sources will often have fact checkers. However, the big company may have an agenda to push and will alter the story a bit or use half-truths. So even then, the information may not be 100% accurate. The point I am trying to make is: should media sources have fact- checkers: yes. The viewers will trust you and your posts the more times that it is proven correct. However, at the same time, I personally do not accept everything as pure truth even with fact checkers.

  5. mjdenis38

    As a writer for the Daily Targum, I take it upon myself to check facts in my articles before I send them in for publication. Fact checking seems like an intense occupation because a fact checker has to go through numerous sources and pieces of information to make sure a story is right. This topic right now is interesting, considering CBS’ 60 Minutes apology for inaccurate reporting over the Benghazi story. Any type of media should be fact checked so people don’t get the wrong information or impression of a story. I agree that not everything we read is true because publishers have their own interests they want to pander to. Blogs don’t usually have fact checkers, and that is a knock against a blog being a legitimate journalistic endeavor. However, even if your content is fact checked, that doesn’t stop some readers or viewers from still arguing that the information is wrong. And what of the biases at FOX News and MSNBC? Do we really know what the facts are? Readers and viewers should have a tepid trust of the news, because not all information is truly factual.

  6. karencronin

    Until reading Canby’s chapter excerpt, I never even knew much about fact checkers. And they are a very important part of the writing in a newspaper, magazine, online website, etc. Without fact checkers, many more establishments might have a bad reputation for printing untrue information. I think fact checking should pertain to blogs, as a blog is writing that contains information. While many blogs are run by only one person, it should be the responsibility of that one person to make sure the information they are posting is accurate. If a one person blog gives erroneous information, it could be detrimental to the blog. If readers find that what they are reading is not accurate, they will leave and find another blog to read that is accurate. Not only does the blogger lose readers, their reputation has been marred as well. While I don’t expect that blogs run by one or few people should designate a person as a fact checker, I do think it would be useful to have others who are part of the blog read each other’s work for authenticity. Of course not all posting may need a fact check, in particular if it is an opinion type of post. But for the reputation of a blog, I believe it is important to give accurate and true information.

  7. hillary601

    I think that people should be responsible to check the facts that they share on a blog post. Regardless if the blog is not professional , the blogger should put the correct information up. I think that rumors could be spread through telling Los on ones blog. If the post is about someone than incorrect information could hurt the person. When I am writing on my blog, I always make sure that I put the right information up. I know that my blog is not very serious but I think that it is very important that I provide the few readers that I do have with the right information . I would not want to post that a band has about 3 albums when in reality there are only two. This might cause someone to look for a third album that doesn’t exist and they would be wasting their time. I think that checking your facts is very important but I know that everyone makes mistakes. I think mistakes are acceptable depending on the information and the formality of the blog. If it is Obama’s blog, the information should be right always. If it is mine then it doesn’t have to be correct all of the time.

  8. yadyayala105

    Checking the facts before posting them anywhere is very important. I think it is important even if you are an unknown blogger and only your mom reads your blogs. You should only be saying honest and truthful information. I do not think that an unknown blogger should actually call all their resources or hire someone to do that for them but I do think it is absolutely necessary for those who have very popular and well-known blogs. I always make references to YouTube but it’s all I really have to rely on. On YouTube I watch this channel called Sourcefed that give out the news and other forms of entertainment. They are very popular channel on YouTube and it is crucial for them to have accurate information. Any misleading information could result in hurting their career. The channel could also get in trouble by the person they are writing about because they are not giving the proper information. Although misleading information may allow you to gain a few more readers is twist the truth; you may never know whose life you may be destroying by creating a fabricated headline. Journalist stress the importance of this and I also think bloggers should too. My prime example would have to be during the Boston Bombing last year. So many newscasts tried to compete with one another to get the story out first and they did not do their fact checking very well. The results were misleading information to the public and even a public message from the Boston Police Department saying that the information given out by the media was incorrect. If the police had to call you out on your own news channel then I think it is time to get your act together tv stations.

  9. evanhuaru

    First of all fact checking is very important to huge newspapers and reputable news outlets. These sources of information always try to be as accurate possible in their articles. Fact checkers check the authors writing to make sure each and every part of their article is either correct or indisputable. Different newspapers try to gain a competitive advantage by publishing articles first while being as accurate as possible, to attract readers to their newspapers. This can be good and bad. It can be bad because if authors try to write on topics with false sources or not all the facts, the article deviates from the truth. Some readers won’t be able to tell the difference if it is true or not so they would believe the lie. This isn’t good because it would hurt the reputation of the newspaper/news outlet. Fact checking can be good in terms of convenience; the readers are able to get first priority to new information and topics so they can stay on top of world news. Fact checking also stops authors from stretching the truth because they know that the facts would be checked.

  10. hg163

    It’s interesting to see how an article gets published. I used to think that it was a fairly simple process that takes maybe a couple weeks at most. Instead, it’s a surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) grueling process that editors must be meticulous about. A missed error could put the writer’s career in jeopardy (obviously not if it’s a small grammatical error, though). It’s especially grueling for fact checkers since they can’t just go through a couple sources, since those sources may be fake or wrong; they have to go through numerous sources to make sure that the fact that they are presenting is 100% accurate. A misstep in that could not only put the writer’s career in jeopardy, but perhaps also another person if the fact is presented about someone else and it is false (it is very easy to ruin a celebrity’s career just by presenting false information). I feel that too often, media outlets publish an article too quickly without thoroughly checking the facts just to get the news story out first. There have definitely been times where I came across an article and the author got some fact wrong. This can be damaging to that particular news outlet, though, because people expect theme to get their facts right as it is their job to do so. If they get something wrong, some people may not trust that organization enough to come back again.

  11. mlew210

    I can see why fact checking has become less important recently. News comes by so quickly that it’s hard to make sure EVERYTHING is right. For newspapers, writers shouldn’t be rushing through everything just to meet a deadline, but I can still see why there might be one or two false facts every once in a while. I know the media and tabloids post false statements all the time. It’s one of the reasons why they tell us to be so careful in school about sources for research. That said, not checking your facts will damage your reputation greatly. I am sure that newspapers want a good reputation, so it makes sense that they would want to check the facts over and over again. Looking at the article, I was surprised that Sheehan followed the story for so long. I have a lot of respect for people with that level of dedication. I actually wish more people had the same level of dedication that Sheehan had. I read gaming news websites all the time and they are normally filled with factual errors. I get that they need to stay up to date with everything, but it seems more like laziness to me than anything else. If they can’t post the truth, then why post it at all? Human error will always be a factor when it comes to getting the facts straight, but when it’s out of ignorance or laziness, then I can’t accept it. Those are just my personal thoughts on the subject. I’m sure some people wouldn’t even tolerate human error since the only way to correct it would be to put more time into it (which is what old reporters used to do).

  12. Megan Murray

    If only everything that was ever printed could be fact checked so diligently! Most of the time I’m lucky if I go through and proofread my own posts, right? These days our world is so fast paced, and many favor quantity over quality. I’d rather spend a longer time making one well thought out, quality blog post than many quick sloppy posts. And unfortunately, in many business settings you need that quantity of posts! Fact checking slows down the process, and if the company doesn’t care as much as they should, facts are not thoroughly checked. But I guess this is why they say you can’t believe everything you read! And unfortunately, it’s the fact checker’s job to find out this truth. It seems like it can be such a difficult job.

    In addition, it is very sad that so much blame falls on the fact checker. While yes it is their job, it’s a shame that the writers don’t take any of the fall. It makes me think of Goalies in soccer, how everyone feels like a goal scored against you is your goalies fault – while in reality, that ball had to get past every member of the team before it got to the goalie.

  13. jordannao

    Fat checking barely has any recognition theses days especially when information is published every minute or so. This article was very interesting because it gave us another perspective of how information was checked before and how it was produced. But this article also makes us question, if our information today is actually correct? I believe a lot of the information that we read sometimes skips the step of “fact-checkers” and goes immediately into posting the news, which is not what news is supposed to be about. News a lot of times is the foundation of what we know and what we are spreading to our family, friends and neighbors getting that information wrong causes wrong to our whole community. In addition, I believe that fact-checking is a MUST in order for news and articles to be published correctly and also supportive of the information that they are providing. Fact checkers should become one of the most rewarding jobs like the author in a company since they are the ones confirming any information that the authors want to publish.

  14. dmhgs

    I always think of fact checking to be one of those really cool jobs. In movies you see the fact checker go question people to make sure that a certain event happened or to track down a source. It’s almost like a secret little investigation. They’re job is really important especially when they work for a newspaper, which in the movies they always do.

    As we’ve spoken about in class what place should a fact checker have in the world of blogging? Should it be required that bloggers check their facts? I don’t think it should be a requirement. Sure newspapers and magazines will make it their own requirement but to regular everyday bloggers like us I don’t feel the need. People post their opinions or what they think will happen and it goes to the most critical audience; Their own followers and readers. Even if they have an incorrect fact chances are someone will correct them. If they never correct it then I also believe that people in this day and age and capable of determining what they can trust on the internet and what they cannot.

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