New PR Responsibility: Fact-Check Like a Journalist

Wednesday - 5 March 2014

Fact-checking tools and resources for PR to use in content, press releases and social media posts

Magnifying Glass

To build credibility and become established thought leaders, PR professionals must assure all published content is totally accurate. Courtesy of Jan Krömer

The state of the media has opened opportunities for PR practitioners to place stories directly into mainstream news. As Conan O’Brien demonstrated on his show, more journalists are “ripping and reading” news releases word-for-word as a result of smaller newsroom budgets and fewer journalists and original stories.

We’ve urged PR pros to use this opportunity to develop more newsworthy and balanced content. Caution is critical — especially with announcements that are quickly assembled or “newsjacked” to blend in with trending news.  Much of this content developed for social media and direct publication may not go through the typically rigorous corporate copy review process. 

PR’s new power to post like a journalist adds the responsibility to fact-check like a journalist. PR writers must thoroughly check and double-check names, spelling, quotations, numbers and facts before publishing news.

In Faster Fact Checking, Part 1: Tools for Journalists Reporting Breaking News, Amanda Hicken highlights resources used by reporters that help them check news quickly before releasing a story. Below, we share Hicken’s recommendations, along with a few of our own. PR should consider using the following resources before publishing news releases, content and social media posts:

Full Fact

Full Fact is an independent fact-checking organization in the U.K. that examines the reliability of data and numbers from published articles. It monitors online news, newspapers and social media and provides free tools and advice so users can check claims and data reported by the media.

It’s particularly helpful if you’re newsjacking a popular topic and want to be sure you have all its correct data before publishing it.

Journalist’s Resource

Named the Best Free Reference Web Site 2013 by the American Library Association, Journalist’s Resource searches studies and credible online sources, and then provides a recap of the findings as well as tips for media coverage. Just enter your topic or keywords into the search bar, or browse their selection of past studies to fact-check your topic.

Data Journalism Handbook

This free handbook offers a guide on how to collect, understand and deliver data. Hicken highlights several key chapters, including “Data Journalists Discuss their Tools of Choice” and “Using and Sharing Data: the Black Letter, Fine Print and Reality.”

The handbook is a must-have for any PR writer reporting on data or studies.

Associated Press Stylebook

The AP Stylebook is a journalist’s bible. Updated every year, it provides fundamental guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and journalistic style. It’s used by the majority of top-tier news outlets and publications, so you can be sure your work will be taken seriously by both the media and readers. You can order the AP Stylebook in print or online. It should be within arms’ length of every PR writer.  Tip: follow @APStylebook on Twitter for daily style tips on current events.

PolitiFact

PR writers focusing on political events or working for government organizations should head to PolitiFact.com, which reports on political news and statements from politicians and attaches a “Truth-O-Meter” to each story. The meter rates stories as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false and, our favorite, “pants on fire.”

The World Fact Book – Central Intelligence Agency

The World Factbook provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military and transnational issues for 267 world entities. The Reference tab includes: maps of the major world regions, Flags of the World, a Physical Map of the World, a Political Map of the World, a World Oceans map and a Standard Time Zones of the World map. It also includes comparative statistics for countries.

Wikipedia

The free online encyclopedia written by volunteers contains 4.4 million fact-filled articles in English and 30 million in over 200 other languages on most every topic. Its references on each topic are as valuable as the write-ups for fact-finding. If you doubt its credibility, read the Wikipedia description in Wikipedia.

Google

If all else fails, use a search engine to quickly double-check sources and facts. Our advice: find at least two different, reputable sources that match the data and/or spelling of the fact you search for.

Bottom line: accuracy is the holy grail of journalism. To build credibility and become established thought leaders, PR practitioners must be uncompromising in assuring all published content is totally accurate.

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