The fact-checking project

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In our fact-checking project we focused on the the dutch newspaper “The Telegraaf.” People distinguished the Telegraaf from so-called quality newspapers (like NRC Handelsblad and Volkskrant). They publish also articles on www.telegraaf.nl with different kind of topics: from travelling to cars. In comparison with other websites or newspapers they publish more about entertaining topics than serious topics. We checked the facts of five articles from the rubric “Health.”

The first article was about “Breastfeeding decreases risk on breast cancer.” In this article the main findings of the fact-check process were that some numbers could not be accounted by other sources or articles. The journalist did not fact-check the story and just wanted to write an article quickly. In order to write a good article, the journalist should have embedded links to the sources she used and contacted them to get the assumed press release of the study. In that way she could have checked the numbers herself.

The second article was about “30 percent of the cancer cases could be prevented.” In this article they used the ANP as the source. The journalist said that this was a reliable source that does not have to be checked at all. However, the results of the fact-check process suggest the opposite. ANP is getting their information of other organizations. As a consequence, as a journalist you have to check also the facts of the source of the ANP, but it seems that the journalist of the Telegraaf has not enough time to do that on her own.

The third article that was fact-checked was: “Super bacteria is deadlier than cancer by 2050.”

In this article, estimates were published as facts, hasty conclusions were made and information had been used from a source which is not the original. But most important: the readers were misled. The title was more sensational than it actually was. The source did not provide any information to confirm this statement.

The fourth article was about “Multi-resistant bacteria in fish from Asia.” As in the second article about cancer, the journalist explained that she also used ANP as a source and therefore was perceived to be correct. She did not checked the source on correctness. However, the ANP was not named in the article as a source so you did not knew where the information came from and whether it was reliable or not. In addition, the journalist made a generalization that in our opinion was incorrect (they used a small sample for their statement).

The last article we fact-checked was about smoking: “One out of ten youngsters is a heavy smoker.” In this article they used a lot of numbers and percentages, but no cohesion or links, although it was given in the original source. The article was less detailed compared to the source and did not show the total amount of the percentages. The journalist admit that she was really struggling with the numbers and did not knew how to report it in a good way.

In the end we can say about this fact-checking project that the articles that we checked contained a lot of faults. It seems like the journalists of the Telegraaf report the news without a prior check of the facts. This is not a good way of conducting news and decreases reliability. To stay a reliable news source, telegraaf.nl should properly check their sources double and give links to their sources they used for their articles. Several point of views are missing. Often one source is used, so you hear the story from one side. This is a point you see in all the articles we fact-checked: less depth, mainly acquired facts and numbers from other studies but no relevance, conclusion or cohesion. Our conclusion: for in-depth articles do not read the Telegraaf, but if you are in the mood for some entertainment: go for it!

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Visuals: one piece of an advanced puzzle

Last week, Carel van Wijk talked in his presentation about the reliability of visuals. He states that pictures may take different forms when they go around the world. He argues that the use of Photoshop is one of the causes for this. Today, I am going to talk about the appearing of different forms of visuals (pictures as well as videos) in various newspapers about the same news topic and in special about visuals that shows the situation in a war zone.

Framing visuals
Earlier, I talked about news framing and agenda-setting of the stories they tell in the newspapers, but you can also frame visuals. One classical example of this is the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in the Iraq War on April 9th, 2003. An event that was visual portrayed in all the media worldwide. In the research ‘They took it down’ of Fahmy, they examined the visual framing across newspapers of the toppling. They concluded that, in overall, the U.S. newspapers used a victory/liberation frame for the news of the toppling. They reported the happening as that the Iraqi people received the U.S. forces as ‘liberators’ and some of the media even compared the event with the removal of Lenin statues and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only a few media were more critical. The following videos show that the event actually was visually framed.

Not only in the videos they used visual frames. When you look at the three pictures below, you see three different pictures of the toppling of the statue. All these pictures stopped the time of the event. This means, when you weren’t there at the moment that the picture was made, you totally miss the context of the picture. As a consequence, you are completely dependent of the story that the people tell you and at this point the media organizations come in to the story. They can choose the story they want to tell to their audience. According to Fahmy, many U.S. media took shots of the toppling at close range or cropped them tightly. When you take a look at picture 1 (which appears in the New York Times) and you think of the ‘liberating’ story that the U.S. media told their audience, it looks like that there was a crowd of jubilant Iraqis celebrating the toppling with U.S. soldiers. This way of photographing makes it very difficult to estimate how large the crowd really is. When the photographer would have taken a long-shot photograph the situation would have looked a lot different. You can see this in the second picture. The whole square is depicted and it is actually quite empty; only at the foot of the statue you see a really small crowd. A contrary story of this situation can made with picture 3, were the photograph take close pictures of the action. This picture can visualize a situation of an invasion and occupation of the U.S, because the only thing that you see is the U.S. soldier that drapes a flag of the U.S. over the face of the statue.

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Picture 1 ‘Jubilant Iraqis celebrating the toppling with U.S. soldiers’

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Picture 2 ‘A long-shot photograph of the square’

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Picture 3 ‘An U.S. soldier drapes a flag over the face of the statue’

Fahmy also state that journalists, during the war, are less objective to support their country’s troops and their government’s position on the war. The results of another research of Greenwood and Jenkins show that the international news about the Syrian conflict is often visually framed in terms of violence and disaster. In other words: the pictures depicted most often the active participants and aftermath of battle instead of the affected bystanders or efforts to negotiate peace. Besides this they conclude that the framing depends on the kind of magazine: the news magazine published more with violent frames and public relation magazines more with peaceful frames.

In conclusion, in my opinion the use of Photoshop certainly can be one of the causes of varying pictures across newspapers and different videos, but the chosen frame and the goals of the news organizations have also an influence on it. As a consequence, I have to conclude again that it is important to read more than one news source to check the information you read. Especially, when the news goes about war. In addition to this advice, you have to ask yourself questions about the context when you look at a picture. A picture without a context can be interpreted in so many ways. Therefore, read more articles of several sources and look critically at pictures to complete your own reliable news puzzle!

Der Spiegel fired 50 fact checkers

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The judgment of the title

Shocking number isn’t it? But is it true? No, it isn’t of course. You can take that from me, because I totally made it up. But normally a journalist has to check this kind of information. They call it fact checking. Only a few newspapers employ fact checkers. One of them is the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Since 2010, it goes around that they have 70 fact checkers in service. In contrast, the New York Times only have 16 fact checkers. These numbers are based on an article of Craig Silverman. In the meanwhile, there are several organizations that started, for example, with checking the facts that are said by the politicians of their country (politifact.com and AZ Fact Check). According to Craig Silverman, there is a whole process that lies behind the question ‘Is the fact true?’. In this blog post I will present you this process (of course with an example) and I am going to ask the question whether the fact checking process is still the responsibility of a journalist or not.

The process of fact checking
Reynolds Center for Business Journalism created an accurate checklist for journalists. The first section of this checklist (see picture) consists of four questions to check the facts you used in your article.

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Section one of the accurate checklist for journalists

The picture below shows a section of the article ‘Risk from extreme weather set to rise’ published by the BBC. In this picture I carried out the first step of step four of the checklist. I highlighted names and titles yellow, numbers and calculations green, dates and ages blue, quotes pink and superlatives purple. According to the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism should all these facts been double-checked before the BBC should publish the article.

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A section of the article ‘Risk from extreme weather set to rise’

In this section of the article they already used every kind of fact that are mentioned by Reynolds Center for Business Journalism. When I look at the picture I personally miss one kind of fact. In the article they constantly refer to ‘the report’. This raises a few questions in my mind: ‘What report?’, ‘What’s the title of the report?’ and ‘Who carried it out?’. Therefore, in my opinion, there needs to be added one criterion at the checklist: Is every source concretized enough?

Back to the process of fact checking, supposing that the rest of the article also consists of many facts, you can imagine that the number of facts in an article can be very high. Consequently, the duration of the fact checking process will be long. Journalists of an organization without a fact checking department have to check the facts by themselves. You can understand that it is almost impossible to write an article, check all the facts and check in the meanwhile the other five paragraphs on the list of Reynolds Center for Business Journalism. In this point of view I can agree that it couldn’t be any longer the responsibility of the journalists to check all the facts. They can’t simply bear the responsibility, because they have not enough time to do it. But does this mean that the people have to learn fact checking by themselves? I don’t think so. I do think that it is a good thing that the people know that not all what is in the newspapers is true, but you can’t demand of the people that they are going to check the facts by themselves. The people simply want to read the news and stay updated.

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Today’s edition of Der Spiegel

Due to the fact of the upcoming fact checking organizations, there is certainly a need for fact checking. But if we don’t change anything of the fact checking process, the people have to read the newspapers and must stay updated by the fact checking organizations. Maybe we have to take a better look at the fact checking process of the German newspaper Der Spiegel. They organized their fact checking department by areas of expertise (i.e.: politics, science, economics, foreign affairs, culture, sport and medical). Besides this, the factcheckers do not only check the facts, they are also involved in the writing process. This results, in my opinion, in a more efficient method than the method of the New York Times, where the fact checkers see the article for the first time when it is finished or close to finished. So that means that they aren’t involved in the writing process.

In conclusion, I think that it is still the responsibility of the news organizations to check the facts. Besides this, I think that it is better that they employ fact checkers than let the journalists check the facts by themselves. This may cost a lot of money, but at the end I think that it makes your news organization more reliable.