Portland State University. Department of English
Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Creative Writing
1 online resource (iv, 106 pages)
These days, fact-checking is a fashionable term in the worlds of both politics and the media. On broadcast news, tickers run below the speeches of politicians, with claims annotated in real-time and occasionally labeled as false. In newspapers like the Washington Post and online information hubs like Politifact.com, writers invoke the term to flag reporting that aims to correct or clarify the public record. At times, "fact-checking" efforts are themselves called out for partisan bias or personal gain. The term is now practically mainstream, used in everyday conversation to indicate disbelief. ("I'm going to have to fact-check you," CNN anchor Jake Tapper said to former Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in August 2016, expressing surprise that she was the mother of a 12-year-old.) Given the proliferating parties of interest that now claim to be engaged in some sort of fact-checking endeavor--from policy think tanks to Facebook--it's no wonder that a term originally reserved for the pursuit of journalistic accuracy now suffers from muddied public understanding.
This study focuses on fact-checking in the context of print magazines: the media genre that innovated a formal version of the practice nearly a century ago. Magazine fact-checking, unlike the "fact-checking" tickers of broadcast news and newspaper postmortems, focuses not on setting the record straight after the fact, but rather on getting the story right before it goes to print. If a magazine fact-checker does her work well, she'll remain invisible to the reader. And that's because the published story, after her fact-checking, will afford the reader an experience uninterrupted by questionable logic, unreliable sources, or suspect data. Magazine fact-checkers aim for this level of perfection by employing a rigorous process that goes far beyond the verification of names, dates, and numerical figures. To illustrate this process, and explain my personal investment in this craft, I share my own experience working as the head of a city magazine's fact-checking department. To gain perspective on magazine fact-checking as practiced elsewhere in the nation, I interview other fact-checkers, writers, and academics. I also draw on case studies, media history, and personal anecdotes to examine some of the fundamental questions that inform the practice. (Among them: what is a fact? When does information become true? And what are the limits of a fact-checker's pursuit of truth?) In the world of fact-checking, there are best practices in the craft, and nuances to consider. Fact-checking also wades into deeper waters: those of philosophy, ethics, and social bias. But at its core, fact-checking is quite simply an application of critical thinking skills: skills that can be honed, and used for good. At a time when the media has lost the faith of many Americans, the magazine fact-checker can play a critical role in building that trust, one scrupulously vetted story at a time.
DeNies, Ramona Wynne, "Close Enough: Adventures in Fact-Checking" (2017). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3669.
Available for download on Sunday, July 21, 2019