At the nonprofit and nonpartisan Wisconsin Watch, we think about accuracy all the time. An integral step in our process happens after a reporter finishes a story but before the story reaches our readers’ eyes: fact-checking.
Every report we produce goes through a rigorous review. A Wisconsin Watch editor or another fact-checker, typically spends between eight and 12 hours verifying each and every word. Tack on the time it takes to vet multimedia elements, and we might spend two full days scrutinizing each major package we distribute.
We believe it is time well spent.
“We’re in the information and fact business,” said Managing Editor Dee J. Hall. “It is up to individual news editors to choose to run our stories, and they have to be able to trust us.”
Because even a minor fact error like a misspelled name could undermine our credibility, we take every measure we can to report with accuracy.
For each individual fact — a name or age, a report’s title, a summary of events, a quote or even an impression — the reporter must produce evidence of it from a reliable source. On a digital copy of the story, the reporter highlights each fact and links to documentation, whether a public-facing website or a document, interview transcript or other form of evidence that the reporter uploads to a virtual folder.
The fact-checker will then closely follow the links to verify the support of each fact.
It is an evolving version of a system graciously shared in 2009 by our colleagues at the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity — one we adopted to improve the accuracy of our journalism after two of our earliest reports contained mistakes.
Every fact-check reveals the need for additional editing to enhance clarity. Hall and the reporter also consider whether a story covers a topic fully and fairly.
“There are times during the fact-checking process where you identify gaps in the reporting,” Hall said. “Let’s say a fact you thought was correct is actually off, what else does that mean?”
It is not unusual for a reporter to be sent to do additional reporting after the first review.
In the end, every story has a detailed fact-checking folder and version full of links that can be easily be referenced and reviewed.
In addition to producing high-quality journalism, another key part of our mission is training current and future journalists. We aim to instill our obsession with accuracy in them, too.
This page was excerpted from a longer article by Wisconsin Watch reporter Cara Lombardo: We take facts seriously at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Here’s why. The page was also updated from a an earlier version that was published before Wisconsin Watch transitioned to a completely digital form of fact-checking.