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To rebuild trust in journalism, fact-checking needs to flip its focus from details to the big picture

The old model of fact-checking, with its focus on individual bits of information, is actually harming trust in journalism and needs to be dramatically shifted to focus on issues instead.

In this Q&A, Tom Rosenstiel, executive director at the American Press Institute, explains the research that has led him to conclude that newsrooms should completely transform their approach to fact-checking, making the key unit “not a claim or a fact, but an issue.”

This seismic shift in approach comes in response to research that shows:

  • a partisan divide to fact-checking, with the audience “more resistant to the fact-checking when it’s their guy who is being fact-checked.”
  • if fact-checking is too narrowly focused, the audience will simply allow for that “minor” error while continuing to hew to a larger and potentially far more egregious inaccuracy.
  • the process of deciding which claims to fact-check “has a big impact on whether people trust you as a fact-checker, regardless of how thorough you are afterwards.”

Ultimately, the ethos of fact-checking should be to help the news consumer to decide for themselves how to think about an issue — rather than to wave a finger and say this is right and this is wrong. And I think this holistic issue approach really helps in that regard. It’s this very rich version of fact-checking that gets at what fact-checking is for in the first place, which is to create understanding, not to say ‘Hey that guy is a 67 percent liar-type.’ 

Be sure to see more on fact checking here on Better News.