Fact-checking, Wikipedia and basic journalistic credibility

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

When I was in my early 20s, and working in my first proper journalism job, my features editor and boss at the time, Andy, took me for a pint. But he didn’t take me to the usual pub, he took me to one a little further away from the office. And he took me there because he was about to give me the nicest – but the most dramatic – bollocking I’ve been given before or since.

I’d filed a feature before I went on holiday, and there had been something like three glaring factual errors in the piece. And he made the point, repeatedly but over a pint, that doing something like that undermines my credibility, his credibility and the credibility of the publication. And if the publication loses its credibility, it loses its ability to make money, and we all lose our jobs.
The internet has done *nothing *to change this. Get your facts right, or you’re toast. 
To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re “[underpaid, overworked and underresourced](http://twitter.com/#!/davelee/status/26548237256)” – and a good number of journalists are these days, at least compared to, say, two decades ago – this is the bare minimum of credibility you need to call yourself a journalist. Have at least a modicum of professional pride.
Why am I writing this now? It’s in response to both an article on the Register about[ journalists quoting Wikipedia without fact-checking](http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/10/06/wikipedia_norman_wisdom/) and Dave Lee’s response to my tweeted link to it. [Dave went on to say](http://twitter.com/#!/davelee/status/26548662881):
> @adders I’m not doubting you. But in a world where the first to publish gets better Google News treatment, this will carry on happening
But does it need to? I think that something is being lost in the clash of two cultures. Too many journalists are trying to mix the culture of fast that’s the defining factor of the internet age, as [Dave rightly points out](http://twitter.com/#!/davelee/status/26548662881), with the “finished article” culture of traditional journalism. 
Get an article up quickly with the bare facts that your know are true, sure. Don’t stuff it with facts you haven’t checked out – it’s the internet. *You can update stories*. You don’t have to do it all before you press “publish”. Add the extra stuff as it’s confirmed. 
I started this post with a story of my days as a fresh-faced young journalist. I think I’ve just proved that I’m becoming a grumpy old one. 😉
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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.