This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.
Tegna television stations use a segment called Verify to help news consumers discern what’s fact from fiction on social media.
This is the second in a series about Tegna’s efforts to improve transparency and trust with viewers through its Verify project.
For part one, I interviewed a reporter who takes viewers on the road with him to get a viewer’s question answered and let the viewer witness the fact-gathering process.
For this Q&A, WFAA Verify Producer Siovhan Bolton told me that viewers submit questionable posts they’ve read on social media to her. Bolton also verifies posts she or others at the Dallas ABC affiliate question. She not only researches the claims, but then she explains how she came up with the true-or-false answer.
The 30-second to two-minute video clips have covered a wide range of inquiries including, “Is the U.S. military staging a countrywide blackout?” and “Can you use unused State Fair coupons next year?”
The countrywide blackout rumors were false, says Bolton. Instead, the U.S. Army planned a simulation training exercise. As far as the state fair coupons, they don’t expire, says Bolton.
What are these Verify segments, and why are you doing them?
Bolton: We get viewers’ questions. We find things trending on social media, pieces of headlines that people have questions about or that we have questions about as an editorial committee, and we try to drill down to the bottom of it.
We’re trying to show our work up front. There are so many people who don’t trust journalists, don’t trust the media. They don’t know what we do because they don’t know who we talk to about it. With this, we try to be very up front with them: This is what we did. This is the process to how we got to our answer. Here is who we talked to. Here’s what they said.
We just want be very transparent about how we report, so that we can earn their trust. We want to make sure we’re serving the viewer.
What kinds of resources, such as extra staff and technology, are needed to put together these Verify segments?
Bolton: I’m very lucky to have the leeway to spend a few hours to do research. If I need to go talk to an expert right away or if I need to go do an interview, I have people who can help with that.
Here’s what Sally Ramirez, news director of KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston, which also produces Verify segments, shared:
Ramirez: As I told the staff about this (project) and asked, “Who could be a verifier?” I said, “Every single one of us. We can all be verifiers. We can all be fact-checkers.” What it took was a little bit of reorganization of resources and dedicating people to just making the phone calls and doing the research. Not Googling information but actually going to the source. It’s not going to another news report. It’s going to the actual people behind it. I did hire a couple of researchers, but everyone on the staff is considered a fact-checker.
What goes into planning and producing a Verify segment once you get a question from a viewer?
Bolton: We have a running list of questions that we’ve gotten. We’ll go through those in the morning meeting, and we’ll decide which one we want to answer that day. From there I just sit down and start researching and try to figure out who the best information comes from, the reliable sources or local experts we can talk to.
How has your audience responded to these Verify segments?
Bolton: It has actually led to people having more questions and asking us to do more work for them, asking us to figure out what’s real and what’s not. I think it has fostered a little bit more trust because they see we’re trying to be up front with them.
With your Verify projects forcing you to be more transparent, has this impacted how you also report your non-Verify segments?
Bolton: I think to a degree it has. For me, personally, it has impacted how I produce a show now. I try to be a little bit more up front about what we’re talking about and get right to the point instead of flowery language all the time. It changed how I write and how I think about stories. As a company, though, I think it’s made us more cognizant of who we’re talking to and where our information comes from.
Anything that’s surprised you as far as what newsrooms are up against in terms of all this information that’s coming out on social media?
Bolton: As someone who works in journalism and uses social media all the time, sometimes I’m surprised by what people don’t look into for themselves and whether or not something is a real source. Things get shared so easily. Part of the Verify process is telling viewers, “If you’re seeing stuff like this on social media, this is where you can check it out.”
I’m also surprised by the amount of information that’s out there and how misleading it can be to any person. I’m surprised that when you start to research a question – to really try and find a credible source – just how much information is out there. You could answer it really any way you wanted if you didn’t know where to look.
Interested in learning more about the Verify social media projects? Send an email to Siovhan Bolton at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.