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Verify Facts before you Write a News Story

Marion Charatan

Posted on May 26, 2016 20:30

1 user

Too many journalists simply don't fact check. This will lead to more general distrust and a lack of respect for the media

I have a long standing pet peeve: journalists don’t always fact check. When I was in Journalism 101, I recall my professor stressed the point that if you write something, make sure it is factual; check it out.

I heard a story on the radio not too long ago that Michael Jordan, former superstar basketball player and current businessman, had threatened to move his NBA team, the Charlotte Hornets, out of North Carolina unless the state repealed a law barring transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. I support taking a stand for what you believe in, so I thought ‘good for Michael Jordan.’

The problem is the story was fake. According to The Columbia Journalism Review, the bogus information was generated from another ‘news’ story generated by an ABC News knockoff. That piece said the NBA planned to pull the 2017 All-Star Game from North Carolina due to transgender bathroom rules. False, too!

It could not have been more highlighted when I was a student; check and recheck your facts on any news story. The Review has been published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism since 1961 and I see its articles as credible.

Misreporting is not an uncommon event. Last year, an inaccurate post came out from Bloomberg Politics based on a false article; that Nancy Reagan endorsed Hilary Clinton for president. The New York Times had to print a retraction on a comment Kanye West allegedly made that wasn’t true. In 2013, The Washington Post was snookered by the notorious Daily Currant, with the fake news that Sarah Palin had taken a gig with Al-Jazeera. Whether you like or dislike the victims of these false reports, no one should be misquoted or misrepresented: that is against basic journalistic standards and obligations.

I recall working as a radio reporter in Riverhead, NY at WRCN/WRHD and getting a call at the station. It was from the desperate sounding brother of a man in lockup for murder. Of course, this had the makings of a big story. He told me that his brother was 'one hundred percent innocent'; a horrific mistake had been made. I promised to investigate it - and I did. I talked to someone in the newsroom who said, ‘Yeah, they’re all innocent.’ Still, I felt a moral and journalistic obligation to check it out.

I immediately contacted the prosecutor, jail officials, etc. It turned out that the inmate had been deemed guilty unanimously by a jury. The evidence against him was staggering. But I slept better that night knowing that I had checked the facts as I heard them from his brother. And I called the brother back as a courtesy to let him know I had followed through. I think he survived by convincing himself his brother was innocent. He thanked me.

A report I heard was wrong and if I’d put in on the air, that would have been wrong, too. I have a policy to double check everything I have read or heard for a story. I’m not perfect. I can make a mistake but I understand it’s essential to check out news sources each and every time. With the proliferation of the internet, there are just too many fake news sites to count so let’s not make factual stories stranger than those that are fiction.

Marion Charatan

Posted on May 26, 2016 20:30

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