Ed­i­tor’s Le er

The Walrus - - FRONT PAGE -

I year at The Wal­rus, our com­mit­ment to the ac­cu­racy of our re­port­ing has taken on new ur­gency. In 2018, we ex­tended the rig­or­ous fact-check­ing process used in our print mag­a­zine to the jour­nal­ism pub­lished on the­wal­rus.ca. We also joined the Trust Project, an as­so­ci­a­tion of in­ter­na­tional me­dia out­lets ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing stan­dards of trans­parency and ob­jec­tiv­ity. And, in a bid to com­bat mis­in­for­ma­tion cir­cu­lat­ing on­line, The Wal­rus launched the­wal­rus-factcheck­ing. com, a spe­cial project ded­i­cated to ver­i­fy­ing ar­ti­cles pub­lished by other me­dia out­lets, claims by pub­lic gures, and even so­cial-me­dia posts.

These ini­tia­tives have ar­rived against a back­drop of height­ened vis­i­bil­ity for the work of fact check­ers ev­ery­where — a re­sult of con­cerns about fake news and at­tacks on the me­dia by pub­lic gures. Since the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Wash­ing­ton bureau chief, has be­come the US pres­i­dent’s self-ap­pointed factchecker-in-chief, with al­most half a mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers. Face­book, now one of the big­gest distrib­u­tors of news, has an­nounced that it will work with fact-check­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions world­wide to ver­ify con­tent on its plat­forms. The Life­span of a Fact, a play dra­ma­tiz­ing the work of a fact checker, star­ring Daniel Rad­cli e, re­cently opened on Broad­way.

To those who have worked as fact check­ers, the cur­rent love for the pro­fes­sion is un­fa­mil­iar, if over­due. The tra­di­tion of fact-check­ing — the process of ver­i­fy­ing all kinds of in­for­ma­tion, from the spell­ing of a street name to the re­la­tion­ship be­tween mar­ried peo­ple (in this is­sue, we spent a fair bit of time ask­ing hunters to con rm that the pic­ture on p. 64 is of cari­bou, not seal meat) — is one of the least glam­orous, but nec­es­sary, as­pects of jour­nal­ism.

It’s also a lot of work. Fact-check­ing a sim­ple ar­ti­cle can yield hun­dreds of su­per cially banal ques­tions. But, as I learned when I was an in­tern twenty years ago, the prac­tice teaches you much of what you need to know about writ­ing non- ction. It teaches ac­cu­racy and ethics, it teaches you how to build an ar­gu­ment, and it teaches you the kinds of ba­sic things to re­mem­ber to ask in an in­ter­view that are hor­ri­ble to get wrong in print, such as the spell­ing of a sub­ject’s name.

This Jan­uary/fe­bru­ary dou­ble is­sue re ects the range of our fact check­ers’ e orts. For “A Lib­eral’s Last Stand,” writer Cur­tis Gille­spie trav­elled to Hun­gary to in­ter­view Michael Ig­natie — whose po­si­tion at the Bu­dapest-based Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity nds him pinned be­tween the in­sti­tu­tion, founded by Ge­orge Soros, and the au­thor­i­tar­ian rule of Hun­gar­ian prime min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­bán. The fea­ture re­quired us to look into ev­ery­thing from the le­gal rami cation of Or­bán’s ob­struc­tive ed­u­ca­tion laws to whether Bu­dapest’s Kelet Café is on the eastern or south­ern side of the city.

Some­times check­ers are as­signed sto­ries about well-known, ex­ten­sively re­ported events where even the most ba­sic de­tails re­main di cult to con rm. This was the case with “Look­ing Back at Rwanda,” a col­lec­tion of har­row­ing tales of sur­vivors com­piled by Chris­tine Mag­ill to com­mem­o­rate the twenty- fth an­niver­sary of the Rwan­dan geno­cide. In the case of tragedies where few eye­wit­nesses sur­vive, we of­ten con­sult mul­ti­ple cor­rob­o­rat­ing sources (in this case, Hu­man Rights Watch and o cial United Na­tions re­ports).

We also fact-check ction. For Elise Levine’s short story “This Wicked Tongue,” which is set in the Mid­dle Ages, our fact checker sourced il­lu­mi­nated manuscripts and a nine­teenth-cen­tury text, “The Birds of Old English Lit­er­a­ture,” to con rm the set­ting’s fauna. Fac­tual ac­cu­racy in ction is at the au­thor’s dis­cre­tion; in our ex­pe­ri­ence, even the knowl­edge of what would be ac­cu­rate o ers ction writ­ers more ex­cit­ing nar­ra­tive choices (and it gets us fewer let­ters from hu y or­nithol­o­gists).

Fact-check­ing is not a project born of grand­stand­ing or pedan­tic joy — although it of­ten feels like that when you’ve been caught by one of our fact check­ers ex­ag­ger­at­ing the size of the dessert you ate. We pur­sue this tra­di­tion be­cause his­tory shows that fact — not spec­u­la­tion, po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda, or doc­tored video — is the ba­sis for in­formed dis­cus­sion. It’s long been said the world is get­ting smaller; here at The Wal­rus, and else­where, the no­tion of what “Cana­di­an­ness” is, the no­tion of what makes a “Cana­dian” story, and the no­tion of where one group’s con­cerns end and an­other’s be­gin are ex­pand­ing all the time. If 2018 was the year of the fact, it is our hope that 2019 will be a year of con­text and un­der­stand­ing.

— Jes­sica John­son

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