Sorting out the truth

A few tips on sorting out what is the truth

Never assume. Check everything. Most journalism mistakes are simple mistakes, not complicated errors but careless oversights. Double-check. Always doubt. An old adage: “You say your mother loves you? Check it out.”

People will tell you what they only think they know. Few people distinguish between what they actually know and what they only assume. Sources may tell you what they suspect, think, speculate, or have heard from others, without really knowing. It’s up to you to recognize the difference and go find the facts. A handy test to use: ask your source _– and yourself – “How do you know that?”

Use your common sense. There are times you may have to make judgment calls about where the truth falls. People may, with honest intent, tell you different versions of the same event. Look for what makes good, simple, common sense. Develop a logical mind. Try to look at things as they are – not as you hope them to be. One warning; a story that sounds too good to be true often is just that – not true.

People rarely tell 100 percent lies. Usually there is kernel of truth in every tale. Most people are not capable of generating total falsehood. They may change, color, exaggerate, omit, selectively use, misstate, or misunderstand certain facts. As a rule, people will tell the version which best serves their position. But the tale will be woven around some pieces of truth. A simple “no” may be complete lie; a longer sentence usually contains some facts. It is the reporter’s job painstakingly to strip away the layers to find out what is true.

Look for what is missing. At any stage of a story, it may be helpful to draw up a checklist of what you do not know. Avoid being so proud of what you have found that you aren’t alert to what isn’t there. Develop a sense for what doesn’t quite add up _– and always look for the holes.

Don’t rush the truth. Yes, you must meet deadlines, but a deadline is never an excuse for writing something you don’t know. Manage your time. Have the patience to pursue the facts. If you must write, and don’t know all the answers, tell your readers so. Success does come with being both first and right. But it’s still better to be second than wrong.

Run scared. Worry about what you don’t know, what you may have missed. If you are a reporter who is worried about being wrong, you have a much better chance of getting the story right.

This information was borrowed from Sourcery. A Reporter’s Guide to Finding the Truth published by Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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