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Are you sure you have the facts right?

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Fact-checking is extremely important, for both writers and editors. It protects a publication’s credibility and prevents libel lawsuits, according to Patch.com editor Clare Noonan during her fact-checking and research seminar at The Sacramento Press Tuesday night.

“You have to ask yourself if your source is reliable,” she said. “And nothing on the Internet should be your only source.”

She warned that fact-checking is important for a number of reasons.

“If you can’t get the basics right, your readers won’t read another word you say,” she said.

There are a number of areas where mistakes are often found, including spelling errors, war dates, locations, ages and names of businesses.

Some tips she gave for more sound fact-checking were to trust your instinct; always be curious; pay attention to names – especially last names – addresses and directions; think about whether the figures make sense; double-check numbers, like if there are supposed to be five items in a sequence, make sure there are five, and take into consideration the tone of the piece.

As a reader or an editor, ask yourself if it sounds like the writer really knows about the topic of his piece.

In order to engage the audience, she handed out a made-up piece of writing and asked audience members to identify the details that they would fact-check. All of a sudden, the room was full of editors who were willing and eager to rip the piece apart.

“Going over that one project, doing some editing, I think that was really helpful,” said Sacramento Press community contributor David Alvarez. “A lot of times we just skim through something and don’t take the time to look into the facts that are there.

“I know sometimes I get lost trying to find a street or a town, and I just take it for granted the the person who’s writing it knows what they’re talking about. But you have to go back and look at the facts and find out what’s really true.”

Some resources Noonan suggested for more information on fact-checking included “The Fact Checker’s Bible” by Sarah Harrison Smith and lexisnexis.

Writer Chi Smith said, “This makes me more cautious and a lot more skeptical of the news I read, but I learned that everybody here seems to have pretty solid integrity. It gives me a lot of confidence in the press.”


Photos courtesy of The Sacramento Press Managing Editor Colleen Belcher.

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