I thought fact-checking was all but dead. Yet the University of Chicago Press sees it alive enough to publish The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking by Brooke Borel.
A contributing editor to Popular Science and a freelance science journalist, Borel also teaches fact-checking at the Brooklyn Brainery. Unsurprisingly, her fact-checking model is based on magazine publishing, with input from other types of journalism, including podcasts and television.
Fact-checking is important beyond journalism to any nonfiction (and even some fiction) works. It’s easy to see why plagiarism and fabrications are an issue, but just getting facts wrong can be a problem: it hurts the basic trust between author and reader. If the author gets a country’s capital city wrong, what else did they get wrong? Why should the reader keep reading and trust what the author says? The volume of publishing is so overwhelming—and the quality often questionable—that readers easily give up on an author’s piece as soon as they hit a little bump and go find something else to read.
Borel’s guide builds a strong argument for including fact-checking in the publishing process and then teaches you the full process.
Chapters 1 and 2 give you the ammunition you need to convince your boss or client that fact-checking should be part of the process. Borel includes many recent examples of when fact-checking could have saved publishers a lot of trouble and embarrassment, many of which made headlines and then were quickly forgotten. Remember Elan Gale, who tweeted about a fictitious woman grossly misbehaving on a US Airways flight? Gale often used his Twitter account to post jokes, and the series of tweets was meant to entertain. Unfortunately, the news outlets missed that because they reacted without doing any research. They published stories as if the tweets were true. Basic fact-checking would have prevented major embarrassment.
Chapters 3 through 6 teach fact-checking methods, types of facts to check, sourcing, and recordkeeping. Peppered throughout are short exercises on which to practice these new skills, and chapter 7 has a comprehensive test (with answers in appendix 1). Completing the exercises as you work through the book will reinforce the lessons. The book wraps up with a great reference list in appendix 2, including a couple of my favorites: Sarah Harrison Smith’s The Fact Checkers Bible: A Guide to Getting It Right and Craig Silverman’s Verification Handbook: A Definitive Guide to Verifying Digital Content for Emergency Coverage (free to read online).
Fact-checking can be a great add-on service for freelancers or a way for employees to increase their responsibilities (and, hopefully, their income). Even copyeditors who do light fact-checking (what I describe as “easily researched facts,” such as a country’s capital city) will find this book useful.
Fact-checking may have been on the wane, but in our current political climate, it’s more important than ever. For copyeditors who want to help it rise, The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking is a good training tool and resource.