Why fact checking is important in business journalism
Bethany McLean, a business journalist at Vogue, writes about the importance of fact checking in business journalism on LinkedIn.
McLean writes, “I got my job in 1995, just as the last golden age of magazine business journalism, fueled by heavy spending dotcom companies, was beginning. Time Inc, which owns Fortune, was itself just transitioning into the modern world. The fact checking department used to be dominated by women, who worked for mostly male writers, and was still run by a wonderfully old school woman named Rosalind Berlin.
“Ros, as we called her, took me out to lunch when I first got to Fortune, and explained the procedures. You had to have different color pens, so that you could put a red check over facts that had been confirmed, by, for instance, looking up the proper spelling of something in an official directory. Or if you were using an anecdote that the writer hadn’t reported, it had to have been printed in three separate publications. If you wanted to make a change on a story, you couldn’t bring it directly to the copy room. You had to go to the editor, who would then mark it on his version, which was the one that went to the copy room. There were protocols!
“She also explained that as a fact checker, I wasn’t just responsible for making sure things were spelled right. The fact checker was responsible for making sure that the overall gist of the story was accurate, that it was supported by the evidence. If the story was wrong, it was the lowly fact checker’s responsibility to fight it out with the lordly writer and editor, who, needless to say, often didn’t want to be corrected. You had to be able to stand your ground, because if you didn’t, and there was a mistake… well, it was on you.
“Then, I was given my first story to check. I vaguely remember that it was something about new mutual fund products, and it was written by a freelancer. It sounded good — that is, until I started checking it. In essence, the entire thing was wrong. Up until that point, words on the page, in their unambiguous black and white, had always conveyed such authority that I didn’t question them. I never read that way again. An editor once said to me that good writers were really dangerous because you could be so seduced by their writing that you simply drank in their unsupported leaps of logic.”
Read more here.