Media Moves

Poynter’s Tardáguila talks misinformation

October 14, 2020

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Cristina Tardáguila

“Misinformation is confusing. Disinformation is dark. Cris, and her mastery of Shine Theory, casts a clarifying light.”

Cristina Tardáguila, associate director for the international fact-checking network at The Poynter Institute, talked with colleague Mel Grau she helps the international fact-checking community in the fight against mis- and disinformation.

Below is an excerpt:

Mel Grau: As your colleague, one of the main words that comes to mind when I think about you is “translation.” You speak five languages, three fluently. The CoronavirusFacts Alliance translates fact-checks from more than 40 languages. FactChat’s main purpose is to translate English fact-checks about the U.S. election into Spanish, which includes translating well-established fact-check rating scales — the Pinocchios and the Pants-on-Fire — into one common denominator. Tell me about why this is important to you.

Cristina Tardaguila: I honestly believe the IFCN is the house of fact-checkers. We understand each other. We sort of go through the same problems, and face the same issues, and have the same anxieties towards different things. It doesn’t matter if I’m Brazilian, if I’m Taiwanese, or I’m Italian, we speak the same journalistic language. And I feel much, much more understood when I’m talking to fact-checkers than when I’m talking to journalists. We already have a shared language.

Mel: It seems some of the key ingredients to your collaborations are passion and purpose. How did you get called to this work? 

Cris: It’s the fault of the U.S. that I became a journalist! I was 14. I was an exchange student in Illinois. I had some passport issues, and my American family took me to the Brazilian embassy in Chicago. The councilman was so nice, he came out to talk to me. At the time I wanted to be a lawyer, but he said, “No! You speak very well, you should be a journalist!” So that was on my mind. I started observing the people my American family watched: David Letterman, Jay Leno and later Oprah. Though I never wanted to be a TV journalist. I loved to write.

Mel: And how did you get into fact-checking? Because as you say, it’s quite different from reporting and editing.

Cris: I was associate editor in the political section of O Globo, which is the main daily newspaper in Rio, back in 2013. The polarization was already there, and we were trying to figure out what we could do for the next presidential election, which was the following year. I was invited to go to Columbia for a conference, and I met Laura Zommer from Chequeado in Argentina. They were finalists for the Gabriel García Márquez annual journalism prize. I was sitting in an auditorium and Laura was talking and she showed a video of what they had done in Argentina. I’m like, Oh, my God, this is so powerful. The video was two minutes long, it’s really short. But it seemed to me that it was an entire day. I introduced myself to Laura, we spoke a lot, and I remember flying back to Rio with the computer, click-click-clicking, trying to come up with what was going to be the first blog for fact-checking in Brazil. So, me being a fact-checker is the Argentines’ fault!

Mel: In some ways, your first fact-checking collaboration was Agência Lupa, the Portuguese fact-checking wire service you founded in 2015. You worked with a variety of news organizations in Brazil and further popularized fact-checking in your home country. What did you learn that you’ve taken forward into collaborations today?

Cris: I had a lot of luck and courage at first. I pitched one of the richest men in Brazil, João Moreira Salles, over lunch to see if he would fund my idea because we had worked together before at the magazine he owned. He said no, but told me to go study business. I enrolled myself in an MBA program. This is something that I believe is really, really wrong in the media industry today. Our schools do not prepare journalists to be employers, just to be employees. Journalism is not only knowing how to write, knowing how to pitch a good story. No! You really need to know a lot of management.

So then I came back to João a few months later, and he gave me enough money for three years.

Mel: Looking at the CoronavirusFacts Alliance and FactChat, you had already developed relationships with most of these organizations through the International Fact-Checking Network before you established these new partnerships. Beyond speaking the same language of fact-checking, as you said, how do you foster community with such diverse people? 

Cris: I’ve been in the IFCN universe since 2014. I felt like I was somehow in the vanguard of the new journalism. Alexios (Mantzarlis, the founding director of the IFCN), was wonderful.

When Alexios created the Slack channel, the listserv, and all those ways of communicating — as I said, I talk and write a lot — almost everything that people would share in those spaces, I would comment or send something or get involved. I felt like people in my geographical surroundings weren’t participating, weren’t believing enough in fact-checking. So when I had the chance to go to almost all the Global Fact conferences, I found the kind of people that believed in what I believed in. I could describe these people as people that work for love. I don’t care if I stay up 15 hours debunking content. I think it’s SO important. I don’t look at my work as something that just pays my bills. I really, really believe that it can do good.

It’s almost, like, a religious thing. And, when you find other people around you that believe the same, you really want to be with them in community.

Mel: Obviously now you help lead the IFCN here at Poynter and have spearheaded global projects on a scale that has really never been done before. What’s the biggest challenge to collaboration with the CoronavirusFacts Alliance?

Cris: The most difficult thing is the lack of data. There are so many times that we really need to say something, but we don’t have the correct answer. People are now sharing hoaxes regarding the vaccine, like it will cause infertility or deformation or that people are going to have a chip implanted so they can be traced. That all SOUNDS crazy, right? But as a fact-checker, you need data. So, if you don’t have any information about the vaccine, how can you say those things aren’t going to be?

Mel: The CoronavirusFacts Alliance is an international collaboration. FactChat is a U.S.-based collaboration. How have the experiences been different?

Cris: We understood from the CoronavirusFacts Alliance that the only way to fight the tsunamis of misinformation is working together. We are not going to win the battle, but we have more chances when we work together. That motivated the work with FactChat around the U.S. election.

Mel: If you could give only one piece of advice to women in media who are initiating change, what would it be?

Cris: People who know me in real life might say that my stubbornness, my constant talking and the fact that I don’t shy away from a fight helps me succeed! But I would say to other women: Nothing can stop you, and you should truly believe that.


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