A Small Papers Fact-Checking Triumph  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   October/November 2011

A Small Papers Fact-Checking Triumph   

Wed., October 12, 2011

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Major props to the Times-News of Twin Falls, Idaho. The paper did an exemplary job of fact-checking a press release from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

The release was about legislation proposed by Crapo that would cap the tax rate on capital gains and dividends at 50 percent. The paper didn't find any outright lies in the release that would trigger a bunch of Pinocchios. It was, in fact, "completely factual," the paper reported. But, it added, "the data is also spun harder than it should be."

In its analysis, which appeared on the front of its Sunday opinion section, the 20,000-circulation Times-News found that some of the release's assertions rested on worst-case scenarios that would apply in just a small number of cases.

"Relying on the most hyperbolic of methods to crunch statistics and resorting to 'we must pass this now'-style scare tactics only result in increasing the divide between us all," the paper said. "Our elected officials should stick with the facts, and help educate us in making up our minds, instead of trying to guide us through selective representation of the data."

The rise of political fact-checking in recent years has been a major step forward for journalism, whether it's via fact-checking specialists like factcheck.org and PolitiFact (which also has entered into partnerships with local and regional news outlets) or big papers like the Washington Post. It's just wonderful to see smaller local papers doing such important work. It's another nail in the coffin of the he-said, she-said approach to reporting.

Another big plus of the Times-News effort: rather than present its findings in traditional, linear story form, the Lee Enterprises-owned daily displayed them in a graphic, reprinting the release and adding its reporting in boxes connected by lines to the appropriate part of the release. (Check it out here.) It made the reporting extremely accessible.

All in all, a first-rate effort.




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