With great enthusiasm we started the European Factcheck project this winter. Working together with 19 J-schools in 15 European countries is interesting. Besides that, we underline the bigger aim of this project: teaching students verification skills to become eager journalists to make ‘a better world’.
Students don’t always like doing research but when you say they can participate in a EU-factcheck project it sounds far more exciting than ‘doing research’. While research is boring in the eyes of students, fact checking can make you feel like a detective. You have to combine different pieces of a smaller or bigger puzzle, which most of the time is not easy. You have to search in documents, call people, look for experts and ask for explanation.
With the EU-elections coming up this week and this particular project coming to an end, I was wondering how we could ‘make things better’? How can ‘factchecking’ become just one of the other daily routines of journalists? Of course the participating J-schools are going to talk about this, for instance at the 5th World Congress of J-Schools in Paris this summer. And of course there already is some really good teaching material such as this Unesco Guide for instance (in different languages).
Another part of the answer (how can we make things better in the future of journalism (education)?) arose by reading an interesting article on a Dutch website about an overseas organization the Center for Media Engagement in Texas. This website belongs to the Dutch Journalism Fund – officially: het Stimuleringsfonds voor de Journalistiek – and encourages the quality, diversity and independence of journalism by using money, knowledge and research to promote the innovation of the infrastructure for journalism in the Netherlands.
What did the researchers do?
They conducted an experiment in which readers had to rate an article with or without a so-called ‘explain the process box’. In this box the author of the article explained why and how he covered the story (see below). This example comes from: Chen, Gina Masullo, Curry,Alex, & Whipple, Kelsey. (2019, February). Building trust: What works for news organizations. Center for Media Engagement.
People who viewed a news article with the ‘explain the process box’, perceived the news organization as significantly more reliable, compared to people who saw the same story without the box.
The authors state: “In summary, small steps by news organizations can have an influence on building trust with their audiences even if every approach does not work. We encourage news organizations to continue experimenting.”
I fully agree with the authors and wonder why we didn’t introduce this simple idea years ago, although I have to admit that some news organizations in The Netherlands now and then already work with a kind of explanation box.
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RESEARCH | ARTICLE | PHOTO © Gonnie Eggink, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, NL