In an era of widespread misinformation and disinformation, accountability in journalism is more important than ever. The West Virginia University Reed College of Media is again partnering with PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize–winning news organization, to help train student journalists on how to properly fact-check political claims.
Since 2018, Lou Jacobson, a senior correspondent at PolitiFact, has been guest lecturing in Teaching Associate Professor Bob Britten’s Editing and Curation class. During the course, students research and investigate claims and recommend a “Truth-O-Meter” ruling of “True”, “Mostly True,” “Half True,” “Mostly False,” "False” or “Pants on Fire,” in line with PolitiFact’s standards. The students’ investigative work is then approved by editors and published on PolitiFact’s website. College of Media students have been populating the content for PolitiFact West Virginia.
Additionally, students participate in live fact-checking events throughout the semester. After more than a year of pandemic-related remote learning that prevented these live meetings, students are back in the classroom for the fall 2021 semester.
“Lou joined us virtually during the remote terms but having him come to campus for a week-long fact-checking boot camp is just a terrific asset,” said Britten. “Students joined him for individual review sessions, and we were able to host a live fact-check of the WVU University Assembly on campus vaccine mandates. It gave the students a more dynamic fact-checking experience."
During the assembly forum, students were invited to research sources and existing articles on claims made during the comment session.
In a non-election year, there is less campaign rhetoric to fact-check, but the focus on coronavirus-related claims has increased.
“Whether or not the subject should be a political one, the fact is, claims about the virus and ensuing mandates and legislation are common, and every public official seems to have an opinion to state,” said Britten. “This also opens up the realm of viral posts that don't stem from any one figure.”
For example, students in Britten’s class recently investigated a viral tweet about an overturned truck in West Virginia carrying Moderna vaccines. In previous semesters, the class has live fact-checked political rallies and presential and gubernatorial addresses.
PolitiFact is a nonpartisan national news organization that was established in 2007 as a project for the Tampa Bay Times and is now owned by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. The staff of writers and editors work to hold political leaders and politicians accountable for what they say and provide citizens with the factual information they need to make informed decisions.