The Chicago Guide to Fact-checking
B. Borel (Chicago University Press, 2016), 180pp, £13.00 (pbk)
ISBN 978 02 26290 93 5
Reviewed by Merl Storr
When was the last time you checked a name in a text you were editing? In our line of work that’s the sort of thing we do all the time. OK, let me ask you another. When was the last time you phoned your client’s interviewees to check that the client had quoted them accurately?
The Chicago Guide to Factchecking appears to be aimed primarily at US journalism students, for whom it will surely be a must-read. In brisk, informative and entertaining prose, Borel sets out the hows and whys of journalistic fact-checking. She outlines the different procedures for different facts, from statistics to historical events to what so-and-so wore on the red carpet last night. She explains how to approach interviewees and other sources to confirm the veracity of a story without compromising confidentiality. Along the way, she tells ‘tales from the field’ and real-life disaster stories that are thoroughly diverting.
However, the target audience means that the book is arguably both too basic and too advanced for most SfEP members. Too basic because it is aimed at students (at one point it explains what page proofs are). Too advanced because not many of us will ever phone our clients’ sources or listen to their interview recordings. Moreover, the US focus limits the book’s applicability: a long discussion of fact-checking’s legal ramifications revolves entirely around US law, for example.
There are many interesting and useful things here, however. Ironically, perhaps, the various self-test quizzes might be more relevant to proofreaders and copy-editors than much of the text: for practical reasons, the quizzes test your ability to use online and published sources only, which is exactly the kind of checking we’re most likely to do day to day. But unless your career is in journalistic fact-checking – a thoroughly fascinating job, as Borel makes plain – this may not be the book for you.