The Essentials of Fact-Checking


Let me start off by saying I had no idea what to expect from my magazine journalism internship. All I knew was my official job title: “editorial intern.” I quickly realized on the first day of the job that the bulk of my duties were to fact-check everything that went to press. And I mean everything.

From calling sources to verify the most inconsequential details to clarifying trivial facts (for instance, how many jägerbombs did sailors toss back at last year’s Rose Festival Fleet Week?), Sarah Harrison Smith’s “The Fact Checker’s Bible: A Guide to Getting It Right” quickly became one of the most important resources in my internship. I’m beginning to learn that, although tedious and often neglected in the editing cycle, fact-checking is extremely important.

For one, in our digitized world, we’re bombarded with information overloads. In order to discern truth and meaning from what we read, it’s imperative to master the art of “skeptical reading” (Harrison’s phrase, not mine) to ensure accuracy and source reliability (ergo, Wikipedia is a no-go).

Errors and misinformation not only undermine the credibility of any publication, but have the long-standing potential to damage the reputation of editors, writers, advertisers and more.

In addition, taking the time to ensure accuracy will avoid any costly legal tangles like copyright infringements or plagiarism allegations. In the end, I’ve learned that getting the facts right is the difference between “Emily Wilson, Portland Senior Experience intern” and “Emily Wilson, Associate Professor of Classical Studies and Graduate Chair at the University of Pennsylvania. Born 1971.”

You would agree it’s pretty important to not mix those two up on a fact-checking assignment.

And yes, I did Google myself.

Emily Wilson

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About wilsonemily

Journalism student at the University of Oregon
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7 Responses to The Essentials of Fact-Checking

  1. pdxsx says:

    Well done, Emily, and on a very good topic to boot!

    ~J

  2. Alysha Beck says:

    I definitely know what you mean about the importance of fact-checking. I’m at a newspaper and just had a meeting about libel and accuracy. As you can imagine, it’s EXTREMELY important to make sure you have the facts and quotes straight in an article because if you don’t, the paper you work for can get sued. I’m not in the editorial department myself, but I make sure to check the spelling of names and such because I don’t want to make a mistake that doesn’t get caught by an editor. That being said, I am very thankful for the amazing editors at my internship because they do their job so well and make sure the facts are straight.

  3. michelletag says:

    Fact-checking is important in all fields of journalism! I enjoyed your post. Did they supply you with that book? Also, I liked that you mentioned a text you were using as a guide. I think it’s important for us to continue our education even when we graduate, and that includes finding good reads that are useful for improving our careers. Good luck with your internship this term!

  4. asharonson says:

    Fact-checking is one of the most important details in any career. In every single industry, fact-checking exists. You’re right, having your facts straight can avoid costly, reputation-damaging mistakes. It may seem tedious and unnecessary, but it is always important. Many times, fact-checking can get pushed to the back burner when one becomes busy, but it is always important to have your priorities in line and keep your facts straight. Great post, Emily!

  5. codynewton says:

    I can completely relate to knowing only one thing: I’m an “editorial intern.” As a magazine person myself, I also have to be sure everything is 100 percent accurate. There is nothing more upsetting to an editor than to have some random, easily avoidable mistake, make it to print. I’ve not made that mistake here! I think you’ll do really well. I could see how it could be a little boring at times, but it’s a great skill to have, and you’ll learn so much! Just tearing in to a manuscript like that is such good practice.

    Good luck!

  6. So happy to hear that fact checking is still alive! Like you said ‘getting the facts right is the difference between “Emily Wilson, Portland Senior Experience intern” and “Emily Wilson, Associate Professor of Classical Studies and Graduate Chair at the University of Pennsylvania. Born 1971;”’ and I think with blogging becoming a legitimate source for news and information that mistake these happens to often. Since reporting has become such a fast-paced industry because of technology, it doesn’t always slow down and confirm the facts before they are reported. It’s good to know some places still make it a priority.

  7. Wow! It sounds like I have another book to add to my Amazon list. What a fantastic resource! One of my responsibilities at my internship is to check the prices on some of the wines submitted. You’d think it would be easy enough to just hop online and look on the winery website, but we’re not allowed to do that. You never know what price the winery wants publicized and we go straight to the source for information, even nit-picky information, to make sure when it gets to press it’s right.

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