AAP FactCheck is like nothing I have ever done in over 30 years as a journalist. It is fast paced, multifaceted, highly nuanced, challenging and very rewarding.
We fact check statements made by public figures about issues that are in the public interest. It requires a deep dive into a topic to determine if the author of the statement is being truthful. It's a highly structured and transparent process in that each paragraph in a FactCheck carries a reference linking back to the source of that information. It allows AAP's FactChecks to be, in turn, fact checked.
News fact-checking has become an article of faith in an age of duelling facts - or should that be "alternative facts" as former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway famously put it. It amazes me that the first rule of journalism has become a growth industry as fact-checking has always been part of AAP’s editorial process.
Google helped to fund and establish AAP FactCheck, a team of three journalists working independently of the US tech giant, to test claims made during the NSW state and federal election campaigns.
News fact-checking has become an article of faith in an age of duelling facts - or should that be "alternative facts" as former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway famously put it.
For the federal election AAP FactCheck published 46 fact checks over 26 days - almost two a day. For the NSW state election, 22 checks were published over 20 days or one per day. AAP FactCheck has published 77 fact checks in total.
Over the five-week federal election campaign, AAP FactCheck found 21 false among 46 claims investigated. A memorable one was from Agriculture Minister David Littleproud claiming that Australia "produces the most environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre in the world". No small statement. After several emails and phone calls, the minister's office offered no evidence to support the claim. AAP FactCheck's research found that Australia did not produce the most "environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre in the world". The Food Sustainability Index (FSI) ranked Austria, with a score of 79.9 out of 100, not Australia, as the leader in sustainable agriculture in 2018. The Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University also publishes an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which ranks countries on environmental sustainability and performance including agriculture. The EPI ranked Australia 53 out of 177 nations for agriculture. AAP FactCheck found the minister's claim was false.
Here are some useful lessons I've learned over the past three months fact-checking.
1. Trust your instincts.
Investigating statements often take a fact-checker down information 'rabbit holes'. Sometimes these offer leads to where you should be looking and if not, know when to cut your losses.
2. Silence is golden.
Time and again after contacting the person or party who made the statement we were met with silence. In the majority of cases AAP FactCheck found their statement to be false or to have a degree of falsity. On the flip side subjects that were forthcoming with their information source, usually had nothing to hide.
3. Don't isolate yourself.
Collaboration proved crucial in being able to work efficiently and effectively. We published a fact check per day during the state election and two checks per day during the federal election. To do this, you need everyone using their time cleverly. Roadblocks were common in accessing the right information, so bouncing ideas off colleagues became invaluable circuit-breakers.
4. No two fact checks are the same.
While each FactCheck analysis is methodical and highly structured, no two checks are the same. It is not formulaic. Each statement reveals a minefield of semantics/statistics/spin to sell a message. The topic or issue often varies and so to examine the veracity of a statement, an investigation rarely travels down the same path.
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