Note on Accuracy

Journalism Ethics and Standards

13 May 2020

Accuracy is already included in some of our policies like the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. Even though these codes already cover accuracy, we wanted to create an additional note on accuracy because of the importance of accuracy for journalism in general.

This note is especially aimed at journalists considering pitching to GGM. These are requirements for anyone contributing to GGM, and included in the contract signed before the start of a project.

Why is accuracy so important?

Without accuracy, journalism becomes PR or propaganda. Everyone has a reason to talk to a journalist and everyone has responsibilities to an employer, government, ethnic tribe or other groups it belongs to.

Even without bad intent, sources can exaggerate a situation out of frustration or a plea for help. That is human nature, but our role as journalists is to report the truth. When the trust in journalism diminishes, it opens the door to a lack of accountability for human rights abuses or victims not being believed any longer.

An excellent article about the difficulty of accuracy was recently published by Myanmar journalist Eaint Thiri Thu.

“It is not an easy job to access credible information in Rakhine State. You need to triple-check everything, especially information from the Rohingya community. They are suffering from extreme human rights violations. Their freedom of movement and citizenship have long been denied. They have limited access to education and healthcare. Their job opportunities are restricted. Their human dignity has been ignored. They have been living in extreme poverty, which has led to human trafficking and smuggling to neighbouring countries.

Given these dire circumstances, they want their suffering to be heard and cared about, especially by the international community. As a result, there is a tendency to exaggerate and twist information. People do it themselves and so do their translators. […] I always try to explain to translators that exaggerating information has a huge impact on its credibility. The Rohingya people suffer many abuses, yet if their information is manipulated they will suffer even more, and the perpetrators of crimes against them will then more easily slip away without being held accountable.”

Sources are not the only risk group for producing incorrect information. Sadly, in recent years, several scandals about journalists themselves have surfaced.

Der Spiegel announced in 2018 that its award-winning reporter Claas Relotius “invented stories or distorted facts”. And in 2003, the New York Times fired 27-year old Jayson Blair for “fabricating quotations and scene, undetected.”

This is not a new phenomenon. One of the first publicly known cases was Janet Cook at The Washington Post in 1980. Of course, most journalists are hard-working, honest individuals who often forsake more profitable careers to give voice to the voiceless. But still, making a mistake is easy.

For all these reasons, we implement the highest standards of verification at GGM. It doesn’t mean we ‘don’t believe the word of a journalist’, but journalism is not to be taken at its word: it is to be verifiable.

Verifiable means an article is checked by two people at least. The Four Eyes Principle is a common method for managing risk in different industries or activities like accounting, trading, flying an aircraft, security services and IT. Before we look at the rules for verification used by GGM, let’s revisit the elements as stated in the Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics.

Code of Ethics

1. Endeavour to get to the truth and declare it in our content while upholding the highest standards of validity and accuracy.
2. Adhere to the journalistic values of honesty, courage, fairness, balance, independence, credibility and diversity.
3. Distinguish between news material, opinion and analysis, and avoid speculation and propaganda.

Code of Conduct

1. General Accuracy
i) Global Ground Media takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

2. Accuracy of Sources
i) Global Ground Media ensures the accuracy of sources. To that end we require the use of first-hand sources, double-checking of facts, validation of material submitted, confirmation via two reliable sources and corroboration of any claims or allegations made.
ii) Contributors are required to keep a record of notes, recordings, bookmarks and email correspondence relating to the stories. However, where anonymity has been requested or where it is essential, we make sure that our records do not identify those who have been interviewed.

3. Contributors
i) All staff, freelance and external contributors must adhere to this Code of Conduct.

4. Third Party Material
i) Contractual warranties are signed with all contributors regarding the originality of sources, information and all other material they provide.
ii) When material by others is used, Global Ground Media always checks whether it is allowed to be used in the first place. If it is, we attribute and link that material to the original source in all cases. Examples are data of research institutes or previous reports by other media outlets.

These policies are translated into the following verification practices and rules as applied by GGM.

Verification Rules*

  1. The number one rule is that all statements in the article must be backed up by a source. For every sentence, number, name, date, location, the source must be identified. Unless it’s an opinion piece, the opinion of the journalist has no place in an article.
  2. Interviews with sources are recorded, transcribed and, if needed, translated into English. A third person will check the correctness of transcripts.
  3. When paraphrasing, the quotes will be sent to the source for approval to make sure the interpretation by the journalist coincides with the intended message. The source will confirm the used quotes via email or in a recorded phone conversation.
  4. Interviews without recordings, or confirmation via email or recorded phone conversations, will be excluded from the article. Only verifiable information can be included in an article.
  5. Correspondence, recordings and notes from the journalist are shared with the editor of Global Ground Media. When the source material is not shared, the journalist did not adhere to the contractual agreement and the article won’t be published. (When in doubt, ask yourself if another journalist can recreate your article based on the shared source material. If not, exclude every sentence that is not included in the source material.)
  6. Claims from one source are always checked with a second source, and both sides are given the opportunity to respond to claims. An article based on a single source, or without contacting the opposing party does not meet the international standards of journalism and will not be published.
  7. An independent fact-checker hired by GGM checks the entire article, including quotes. If needed, the journalist will edit the article until every sentence can be backed up by source material.
  8. Next, the GGM lawyer will read the article and point out legal risks if present. The journalist and editor will update the article until all legal risks are cleared.
  9. Only after the green light from the lawyer, fact-checker and editor, an article can be published.

These rules have proven to be important on several occasions. Since founding GGM in 2018, I have encountered:

  • a journalist who couldn’t provide any source material for an article;
  • borrowing quotes from another publication without crediting that publication;
  • quoting a government official while the interview was off the record;
  • a pitch on a major pollution story that, thanks to a simple Google search, turned out to be three years old and already fixed by the company; and
  • major corruption claims without asking the government representative for comment.

Honestly, I’m pretty proud of the internal processes we established at GGM, and I hope that sharing this information will help other media startups in designing their processes.

Do you have any questions about our processes or best practices to share? Feel free to contact us at info[at]globalgroundmedia[dot]com.

*These are just some of the verification practices applied by GGM and we maintain the right to add new rules to our internal processes when needed.

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash.

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