New handbook helps journalists verify digital content during crisis coverage

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  • January 31, 2014

By Alejandro Martínez

The European Journalism Centre (EJC) released this week the first edition of its Verification Handbook, a free guide in English on fact checking digital content with a focus on emergency coverage.

The handbook was edited by journalist Craig Silverman, author of the blog Regret the Error and one of the five instructors who will teach the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas’ next Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), “Social Media for Journalists: The Basics.” As part of the course, Silverman will give participants an introduction to verifying digital content and use the EJC’s guide as reference material.

The five-week course in English will start on Feb. 3 and conclude on March 9. Click here to register.

The handbook is aimed to help journalists deal with the challenge of verifying information in the digital age, when new data is coming in all the time and journalists are under increasing pressure to produce and publish content quickly.

The guide contains chapters written by different experts -- including Digital First Media editor Steve Buttry, GigaOM senior writer Mathew Ingram and Circa editor-in-chief Anthony De Rosa -- and step-by-step guidelines on how to verify user-generated content, images, videos, and using crowdsourcing to check on information. It particularly focuses on helping journalists sift through the onslaught of misinformation that spreads online during breaking news and disaster situations.

“Getting something important really wrong is a fear we all have, but there’s another piece to it when it comes to disaster situations. People look at us to provide credible information and if we end up tweeting or publishing information that is incorrect or inaccurate, then we fail at our fundamental mission,” Silverman said during a telephone interview with the Knight Center.

Silverman said there are three fundamental points to keep in mind during emergency coverage: there will always be misinformation amidst the chaos, it is important to remain skeptical, and a journalist must always verify the information as well as the source itself.

Silverman said the handbook can be useful not only for journalists, but for humanitarian air workers and the public in general as well.

“Verification is no longer a skill that only journalists have to develop. All of us as media producers have to. It’s part of media literacy today,” he said.

Silverman began specializing in the topics of accuracy, verification and ethics when he launched his blog Regret the Error in 2004. The blog started as a collection of news corrections from publications around the U.S. but eventually developed a focus on error prevention.

During the MOOC, Silverman will cover verifying sources and content found on social media, working with the online community to verify information through crowdsourcing, handling corrections and building a trusted brand.

The Handbook is currently available in English through the EJC’s website. It will be available in PDF, Kindle and print formats in February, as well as an edition in Arabic.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.