Faster Fact Checking, Part 1: Tools for Journalists Reporting Breaking News

Full Fact, Journalist's Resource, and the Data Journalism Handbook: Three tools that help journalists quickly sort through data for their reporting.

Three resources helping journalists sort through data for their reporting

Which is more important: Getting the news out first or getting it right?

With the ability to post anything on social media at any time, our news cycle – previously hastened by online news sites and 24-hour cable news – has become instantaneous.

On the one hand, we now have the ability to track news as it happens, often from citizen journalists who are tweeting and recording on the scene.  However, that also adds pressure on the media to report news more quickly than before.

As we’ve repeatedly seen, this can lead to mistakes — sometimes with serious consequences.

In a recent post, we looked at the speed vs. accuracy debate and how journalists are adapting to the new news cycle.  We highlighted a few resources for reporters in that post, such as Josh Stearns’ Verification Junkie Tumblr and HootSuite’s white paper 3 Ways Social Media Command Centers Improve Newsrooms.

But with so many tools out there, it’s a subject worth returning to. So once a week over the next month, we’ll cover different resources to aid in faster reporting.

This week, we feature three tools that help the media quickly sift through statistics.

1. Full Fact

Organizations, government, and media are collecting and reporting on so much data, that it can take hours to sort through and find what you need for an article.  For UK media, Full Fact helps cut search time.

As an independent, non-partisan non-profit, Full Fact’s only concern is that the claims being made by organizations and the media are correct. It examines the data being cited to the public and looks at the reliability of those numbers. Was the data properly compiled? Is there a bias underlying the statistics? Was other data neglected that would show a more balanced reality?

For instance, in December 2013, the House of Commons’ Economic Secretary to the Treasury said, “Last year, UK take-home pay was the highest in the G7 and the third highest in the OECD.” Full Fact dug into this data and found that the referenced statistic was for the ‘net income after taxes’ of single people with no children. However, knowing that most people in the UK are married and have children, Full Fact compared UK’s take-home pay of married couples and discovered that the UK actually comes in eighth.

Full Fact’s fact check “Do Brits take home the most pay? demonstrated that the original claim was an over-simplification of the data and that the economic reality is not so  rosy.

In addition to publishing fact checks, Full Fact also has compiled the Full Fact Finder. Finder is a free, online guide that directs users to the best sources of data in five core topic areas: Economy, Crime and the Law, Health, Immigration, and Education.

Its Making Sense of Statistics guide also reviews the right questions to ask and mistakes to avoid when analyzing data for a news story.

2. Journalist’s Resource

On the other side of the Atlantic is the Journalist’s Resource, based out of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Named a “Best Free Reference Web Site 2013” by the American Library Association, Journalist’s Resource explains its goal: “We try to serve as a helpful guide and interpreter — think of us a friend who does close reading and translation of statistics and jargon. While we can’t provide access to the full text of every study, we try to provide at least a point of entry and some key, useful points.”

Journalist’s Resource searches studies and credible online sources and then provides a recap of the findings as well as tips for media coverage. For example, its guide Importance of a museum visit: Assessing arts education and institutions reviewed a U.S. National Endowment for the Arts study about the number of Americans who attended at least one arts event in 2012.

Although that particular NEA study didn’t examine causes for a decline in attendance, Journalist’s Resource found an earlier NEA publication that connected the decline in arts education with the decline in participation as adults. For media interested in covering this topic, it also provided summaries and links to three other relevant studies and articles.

The Journalist’s Resource database includes studies in six key areas (government, politics, economics, society and culture, environment, and international) with eight subtopics for each area.

2. Data Journalism Handbook

One of the most comprehensive guides to using data is the Data Journalism Handbook.

Freely available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, the handbook’s six chapters cover how data journalism can be implemented in the newsroom; how to get, understand, and deliver data; and includes more than 15 data journalism case studies.

Here are a few posts to start with:

With new news continually popping into readers’ inboxes, social media streams, and mobile apps, the inclusion of data in journalism has the potential to capture more reader attention and make a more memorable impact.

As Mirko Lorenz of Deutsche Welle writes in the handbook’s introduction: “Gathering, filtering and visualizing what is happening beyond what the eye can see has a growing value. The orange juice you drink in the morning, the coffee you brew — in today’s global economy there are invisible connections between these products, other people and you. The language of this network is data: little points of information that are often not relevant in a single instance, but massively important when viewed from the right angle.”

Ready to move on? Read Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of this series.

Amanda Hicken is a former media relations manager at PR Newswire. Follow her @ADHicken.

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