150th Anniversary Issue

150 years of getting the facts straight

Armaan Mumtaz / Senior Staff

In a decade when “fake news” has become a household term in the United States and trust in the media is at one of its lowest points in history, reporters at The Daily Californian continue to hold truth and integrity at the forefront of their reporting through their fact-checking process.

Every news story that is published by the paper is fact-checked by three students, who double-check the name of every organization or person and the content of every quote or fact, using both online sources and the reporter’s notes. The entire fact-checking process is overseen by one news editor and two night department editors, according to Jenny Lee, the paper’s night editor.

“The night department is important because we edit all of the content published by the paper,” Lee said. “We make sure that our content is as accurate as it can be and communicated with clarity, brevity and concision.”

Lee added that, when covering a news story, the publication’s goal is to present the facts as objectively as possible in order to allow readers to form their own opinions.

According to Thao Nguyen, the paper’s city news editor, a strict fact-checking process is critical to the paper’s mission of representing the Berkeley community accurately as well as maintaining good relationships with its sources. She stressed that, because the Daily Cal reports not only on news but on people’s lives as well, it’s important that news reporters do their best to tell community members’ stories respectfully.

“We write for the city and the school, and we’re trying to get credible information out to our audience,” Nguyen said. “We’re representing certain people or groups when writing stories, and we’re trying to represent them in a way that is fair to them.”

Before a news article is sent off to the night department, which is responsible for ensuring pieces are accurate and adhere to style guidelines, it is first fact-checked by a news editor.

Nguyen said she goes through each article word by word, making sure that everything included in the article is in the reporter’s notes and is not taken out of context.

Afterward, the article is sent to one of the Daily Cal’s eight copy editors for fact-checking. Still not ready to be published, each piece is finally approved by either Annie Lin or Stella Kotik, the paper’s deputy night editors.

While this process may seem slightly excessive, according to acclaimed author and lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Adam Hochschild, journalists are having to do more to gain the public’s trust.

“Trump did a great deal to erode public trust in mainstream news media,” Hochschild said in an email. “What this means for journalism, I think, is that we journalists who care about the truth have to work harder than ever to be accurate, and to base our reporting in facts that cannot be easily challenged.”

According to Lee, copy editors spend about 20 to 30 minutes on each news story. They then go through their edits through a fact-checking process with a deputy night editor, who is in charge of ensuring that edits don’t change the article’s meaning.

Deputy editors also double-check the sources used to fact-check the article, Lee added. Credible sources include official websites for organizations, city and university documents as well as research articles.

“Integrity is really all we have and if we fail to keep ourselves accountable in the news reporting that we’re doing then we lose a degree of our integrity,” Lee said. “Misinforming our readers can have various harmful consequences.”

When pitching and editing stories, one of the things Nguyen considers is whether or not the Daily Cal would be sensationalizing news, noting the importance of headlines in maintaining an unbiased perspective and steering clear from dramatization.

It’s important that headlines encapsulate an article instead of sensationalizing it by taking one part of the story out of context, according to Nguyen.

“We just try to maintain constant communication when it comes to how we’re pitching stories and how we’re looking at the article,” Nguyen said. “We always have to look at the bigger picture of what the article is actually saying — are we just adding fuel to some drama?”

Headlines and photo captions are reviewed and written by the night department, Lee said. She added that those are the first things a reader often looks at before deciding to read an article and that they can influence how an article is framed.

According to Nguyen, sensational headlines and perspectives on stories have contributed to distrust in the media by the public. Both Nguyen and Hochschild noted that the rhetoric around “fake news” has actually made them more conscientious editors and writers.

“At the Daily Cal, we tend to stick to the most important news that we think the student population and also the city of Berkeley should know,” Nguyen said. “It’s about covering the bigger aspects of what communities are facing.”