In today’s climate of clickbait and fake news, your audience is craving reliable, credible content.
When I started out, freelancing mostly on the journalism side, every article I turned in would be thoroughly checked by an in-house fact checker. That person would call my sources to verify their quotes, validate the stats and facts against the backup materials I sent them, and make sure the copy was as clean as can be.
Of course, most businesses don’t have the luxury of an in-house fact checker. So what to do when you want to be sure to get it right?
A client recently asked us to advise on their fact-checking process, which led to a lot of thinking. Based on the work our team has done over the years for both journalism and business clients, we compiled these four ways to fact check your branded content.
1. Have your content team fact check their own content.
This method leaves it in the hands of the content creators. The good: It’s low cost, and takes the burden of fact checking off your shoulders. The bad: Unless your content staff or contractors are trained in what to check, and how—plus how to qualify sources, judge the quality of polls and studies, and read highly technical reports—they may not be much better than no fact checker at all.
Veteran journalist Steve Buttry (who passed away in 2017) created this excellent, excellent post and checklist to help writers ensure their copy is perfect—from “Ask sources to spell name and title; then verify what you wrote” to “Have you assumed anything? (If so, verify, hedge or remove.)”
Using this, or developing your own checklist and training, is an up-front bit of work that will pay off forever with error-free content. (Or at least as close as anyone can get to that ideal.)
2. Have sources check and approve the entire piece of content.
While most trained journalists scoff at this idea, many content departments and agencies promise sources—who are interviewed for case studies, white papers, articles, or blog posts—that they’ll have the opportunity to look at the draft and either approve it or request changes.
A big benefit is that you get your facts checked, for free, since many sources will provide input not only into their own quotes, but also into other parts of the piece. If they spot a false argument or an incorrect industry term, believe me, they will let you know! Also, journalism ethics aside, it’s not hard to understand why sources would want to approve the draft for this kind of content.
A major drawback is that sources have a tendency to want to add “marketing-speak” to your content, as in, “Can you add that we’re the ‘leading’ supplier of widgets? And that we ‘break the paradigm of widget-making’?” The solution: Stay strong!
3. Send sources only their quotes and surrounding context.
Using this somewhat-more-journalistic method, you get many of the facts checked but while not opening yourself up to random edits by your sources. If you also require your writers to use your fact-checking checklist, that should cover most of your bases.
4. Hire a freelance fact checker.
Yes, they exist! If you have the budget, this may be the easiest way to make sure your content is clean and accurate. They’ll not only check the quotes, but also every fact and assertion in a piece of content. They’re less expensive than an in-house fact checker since you can hire them as needed. And as a bonus, this will get you closest to the journalistic integrity your audience craves: Your fact checker is interested only in getting to the facts of the matter, and has no personal interest in the outcome.
Checking your facts is a key step in creating authoritative, trustworthy content. Or…hire an agency that uses trained journalists to offer you an end-to-end solution. Contact us today to discuss your content needs!