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Fake News and Fact-Checking In The Age of Mass Information 

In the age of "fake news" and mass information, how can we find (and share) credible sources of information. 

How to know who to trust?

As filmmakers, storytellers and journalists, how can we make sure what we are sharing is factual and truthful? 



Why Fact-Checking Is Important

As journalists and storytellers it is our job to gather, interpret and share information with the public. 

"We are dealing with volatile raw material. Handled carelessly, the facts we uncover, research and present have the power to cause misunderstandings, damage and could, potentially change the course of history," says David Brewer, a media consultant and founder of Media Helping Media.

Here are some top tips to keep in mind as you are making your documentary and gathering information for your film.

 


Journalism 101: Best Practices For Fact-Checking

Three Sources Rule – No matter how trustworthy the source of information (the pope, your mom, the associated press, etc), triple check that information with as many sources as possible until you feel confident the information is correct. The basic rule of thumb in journalism is to confirm the information with at least three separate non-related CREDIBLE sources.  And as the video above explains, make sure those sources are not just repeating each other's false information.



What Is A Credible Source?

Well, that depends on what kind of information you're gathering. An eye witness to an event is a credible source to help piece together what happened at that event, but an eye witness is not necessary a credible source for providing context on why that event occurred.

Or what about medical information. Is a study on 10 people by a company who profits from the study results credible? Probably not. What about a government study over a time period of 20 years with 100,000 people and no profit motives. Maybe that one's more credible? The only way to know is to check with multiple people who are experts in their field and have no connection with your other sources.

By talking with all these independent sources you can begin to get an accurate picture of the truth. 
 


Attribution and Transparency – In good journalism, it’s important to share with the viewer/reader where your information originated. This not only provides your story with credibility, but allows the viewer to make up their own mind on the credibility of the information. As part of your research, keep good notes (ie. Google doc spreadsheet) so that you can always quickly reference all your material.


Fact vs. Opinion – A fact is information that can be proven as true or false (2 + 2 = 4). An opinion is an expression of a person’s feelings which may or may not be based on fact (“that building is going to collapse”).  And “spin” is when certain pieces of information are pieced together in such a way to make you believe something is true, ie “fake news”.  


Polls, Studies and Statistics – It’s an amateur mistake to believe that the results from a study or statistics are facts. Beware that studies can be misleading and easily manipulated. It’s absolutely essential to know WHO conducted the study and their motivation. Who PAID for the study. How LONG, over what period of time, was the study conducted. HOW MANY people were involved in the study? HOW was the information gathered? What is the CONTEXT of the information? And many other such questions. For example, a study conducted by a pharmaceutical company on the effects of one of their drugs should be examined with much skepticism.


Be aware of your own biases - Have you already made up your mind about how your documentary is going end? Have you come up with pre-determined conclusions before investigating the facts? If so, be aware of these biases and push yourself to seek alternative viewpoints. The film (and your journey making it) will be much richer if you can approach the project with hyper curiosity and as an explorer on a mission of discovery.


Multiple viewpoints and sources – There are many ways to gather information for your documentary: internet, one-on-one interviews, institutions, libraries, events, social media, on-site investigation, etc. Don’t rely on just one research method or type of person for your information. Utilizing all the combined methods and speaking with people from all sides of the issue will provide you with a much richer, accurate and well rounded picture of your topic.



Your Thoughts

What are YOUR thoughts about fake news? How have you dealt with it in your own life - both personally and professionally? Please share below...



Resources:

Reuters Handbook of Journalism

PBS Journalistic Guidelines

Dan Rather Teaches Journalism (Udemy)



Faith Fuller

Hi friend! I'm Faith, chief instigator here at Desktop Documentaries. I've been in the filmmaking/TV/video biz more than 25 years and I started this site to help super cool people like yourself get their documentaries made, seen and sold! I hope you enjoy the site and if you have any questions, please just ask!  



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