Journalism and Fact Checking: Follow the links

Stephen Colbert explains 'truthiness'

Stephen Colbert introducing the word 'truthiness'

I was writing a post for the Guardian US Politics blog today using the excellent FactCheck site to cut through the spin, mis-representations and some might argue lies emanating from the Republican Convention speakers. Before someone accuses me of bias, both parties spin, and it’s the job of journalists to counter the spin regardless of the party. FactCheck is a brilliant non-partisan service from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and I will stress non-partisan. They examined Democrats’ claims last week during their convention, and took the Obama campaign to task for airing an ad airing in Michigan that misrepresents John McCain’s current stance on low-cost loans to beleaguered American automakers. Politics is played by representing the facts in such a way as to support one’s world view, but there is truth and then there is ‘truthiness‘.

FactCheck does an excellent job of documenting its sources that allow people to evaluate the source material in total and also see the source immediately. It’s a bit of old school footnotes and new school linking, but it’s an excellent exercise in transparency. Even before clicking through the link, a reader can clearly see that some of FactCheck’s quotes come directly from press releases from Office of Senator John McCain.

I compare this to an AP story on the Huffington Post, on Google and Yahoo News that does the same fact checking job as but doesn’t have any links. I know that this is syndicated content. But why not include links in the syndicated content? Come on, it’s not that technically difficult. I think that the Associated Press is leaving itself open to charges of bias by not providing links to the source material, and the AP has had to circulate talking points combating charges of bias from and others against its Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier because he considered taking a position with John McCain in 2006. And now that McCain strategist Steve Schmidt has all but declared war against the media, it would be wise to increase the transparency.

As an internet reader, I’m increasingly suspicious of journalists who don’t link. Yes, if they quote an official that gives me a sense of the source. But why not link to original source material? It also allows me to dig more deeply into the story if I want without having to turn to Google.

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 says that it is a waste of resources to throw away all of the research that journalists do, and linking is not important simply in terms of transparency:

…understanding the value of links, and how they connect content, ideas, and people, is fundamental to understanding the value of the web. And understanding the value of the web is the key to unlocking the new business models that journalism needs to survive and thrive in the digital age.

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