5 top tips for effective fact-checking

July 20, 2018

Every newsroom doing investigative journalism should have a system for pre-publication quality control to verify a story. Here we listen to GIJN's video series for investigative journalists on fact checking with Nils Hanson, the Editor-in-Chief for the Swedish TV-program Mission Investigate, a weekly one-hour investigative journalism program. Hanson explains how to “bulletproof” one’s story through fact-checking and talking to the subject of an investigation as early as possible.

1. How to treat the bad guy - It’s important to be as open as you can. In the judicial system, the suspects should be given access to all evidence - at least in general. Just to be able to prepare a case in court. You should informed the person who is subject and also inform as much about the evidence you intend to publish. The response you get will be critical to the fact checking process.

2. Contacting the subject being investigated -  You should do it as early as possible for two reasons. It’s the best way to test your hypothesis and also save time as there might be explanations you might know about. 

3. Show generosity - Give the person subjected to the investigation several opportunities to answer to the allegations even if he or she initially says no. If there are any relevant mitigating circumstances, you should highlight them.

4. Verify everything - All of the details must be verified. That includes big issues and little details. You should also examine the conclusions very carefully. Sometimes your conclusions might be sharpened, but sometimes they might need to be softened. Be sure to verify everything with an editor and a colleague. Never do your fact checking alone. 

5. Avoid tunnel vision - The biggest enemy for the investigative reporter is when they’ve decided very early on what the story should look like and they’re only interested in supported facts, not the contradicting facts. Confirmation bias can be avoided by asking yourself two questions. Would the public be disappointed if they knew what you had left out? Can you defend your selection without losing credibility.