The Fun of Checking Facts

Fact-checking

This piece at Slate titled “Orgasm Guaranteed: What I learned while freelancing at Cosmopolitan” was great on many levels. First off, it was hilarious. Second, I think a lot of us can identify with the author’s naivety at her “big break” in the magazine industry—I know I can. Third, it brings to light a part of the industry that few people know about and even fewer seem to really care about.

When I started as a department editor at Vox magazine in the summer of 2008, I remember groaning along with the rest of the new editors when our Editor outlined the procedure for fact-checking. We were to underline every fact in a story—including quotes—and verify them with a primary or secondary source. Those documents would then be filed away until the statute of limitations expired. Essentially, if we got sued, our butts were on the line. What started off as a daunting task actually become a procedure I enjoyed.

Like Goldstein, I certainly have my share of stories: chatting with a wildlife expert about what kind of damage an armadillo would do if you accidentally hit it with your car, sitting in the living room of a safe house with recovering addicts and confirming the details of their search for a roommate and even uncovering a fake source who invented a personality when interviewed by a reporter. But at the end of all these stories, I felt a certain satisfaction that the articles we were publishing were 100% correct.

In today’s age of blogs and internet news, mistakes are easy to make—and even easier to correct with the click of a mouse. Fact-checking seems to be a lost art. While it’s not possible to fact-check every blog post and news item that goes up on a website, online media would benefit from taking this particular page out of print’s book.

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