The Backstory: How and why the USA TODAY Network fact checks issues, people and statements in the news

  • In Business
  • 2020-02-22 01:58:52Z
  • By External Contributor
The Backstory: How and why the USA TODAY Network fact checks issues, people and statements in the news
The Backstory: How and why the USA TODAY Network fact checks issues, people and statements in the news  

I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is the Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get the Backstory in your inbox every Friday, sign up here.

When people ask me my mission as a journalist, I give the same answer every time: To spread truth.

Misinformation, distortions and outright lies are a significant problem for our country.

Professional journalists must lead the way with credible, transparent reporting of the facts. In addition, we need to correct and stop the spread of significant misinformation.

To that end, we have created a page at USA TODAY to collect the fact checking our journalists across the USA TODAY Network do every day.

If you would like to suggest a fact check, you can reach us at

We will be transparent in our sourcing, linking to original documents, testimony or transcripts. We'll name our sources, and make sure those sources are in a position to have the most accurate information. And when we make a mistake, we'll correct it promptly and publicly.

We are guided by the Gannett Principles of Ethical Conduct, a set of standards all of our journalists uphold. The first section talks about seeking and reporting the truth:

  • We will be honest in the way we gather, report and present news - with relevancy, persistence, context, thoroughness, balance, and fairness in mind.

  • We will seek to gain understanding of the communities, individuals and issues we cover to provide an informed account of activities.

  • We will hold factual information in editorials and other opinion pieces to the same standards of accuracy as news stories.

  • We will treat information from unofficial sources, which may include social media, with skepticism and will seek to corroborate information.

  • When considering news content created outside of the Network, we will factor the credibility of the source and weigh the value and accuracy of information provided.

The standards also address conflicts of interest, bias in reporting and acting with integrity:

  • We will remain free of outside interests, investments or business relationships that may compromise the credibility of our news reporting.

  • We will maintain an impartial, arm's-length relationship with anyone seeking to influence the news.

  • We will use technological tools with skill and thoughtfulness, avoiding approaches that skew facts, distort reality, or sensationalize events.

As for the fact checks on this page, they will be reported by journalists across the USA TODAY Network, under the guidance of local editors and national editors here at USA TODAY. Those editors include:

  • Martina Stewartis an editor in USA TODAY's Washington, D.C., bureau, where she focuses on political and legal coverage as well as breaking news. She has more than a dozen years of experience in digital journalism, her second career path after almost a decade as a lawyer that included clerking for the federal district court in Los Angeles and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She worked previously at NPR, the Washington Post and CNN. She holds an M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an undergrad degree from Yale University, where she double-majored in English and African-American Studies.

  • Kristen DelGuzzi is managing editor for politics and world at USA TODAY, where she supervises the Washington, DC, bureau, the London correspondent and coordinates elections and political coverage for the USA TODAY Network. She previously was senior director for digital and audience growth at The Arizona Republic. Kristen was a longtime politics editor in Phoenix, where she managed coverage of Sen. John McCain's bid for the White House, led coverage of border and immigration issues, and helped to create and then run AZ Fact Check, the Arizona Republic's award winning fact-check program. Kristen is a graduate of Kent State University, which honored her in 2018 with the Taylor Award, the School of Journalism's highest recognition.

  • Caren Bohan is Deputy Washington Bureau Chief. Bohan, who joined USA TODAY in June 2018, leads a team covering the White House and Congress. Previously, she was White House and politics editor at Reuters. As a former White House correspondent, she has traveled around the world covering George W. Bush and Barack Obama and has interviewed both presidents. Caren has also worked at National Journal as domestic policy editor. She is a past president of the White House Correspondents' Association.

  • Lee Horwich has been a Managing Editor/News, helping lead national coverage for the USA TODAY Network, since 2018. He helps oversee Breaking News reporters and editors, along with national correspondents across the country. Prior to 2018, he led the Politics and Government team at USA TODAY, where he oversaw a staff of six editors and 25 reporters, since 2005. Horwich has been with USA TODAY since April 2000. He started as a national editor, overseeing transportation safety issues.

  • Kristen Go is a Managing Editor/News. The news team, which is spread across the country, provides coverage of breaking news and in-depth stories on topics such as race, immigration, climate change, education and religion. Prior to joining USA TODAY, Kristen served as the Managing Editor, Digital at the San Francisco Chronicle and worked at The Arizona Republic and The Denver Post.

  • Philana Patterson is Managing Editor/Money and Consumer Tech at USA TODAY in New York City where she leads business, financial and consumer technology coverage. Previously, Patterson served as assistant business editor at The Associated Press. She's worked as a reporter, editor or producer at Black Enterprise, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones Newswires, and The Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia. She began her career in journalism at the Greenville News in Greenville, South Carolina. Patterson is a native of Chicago. She earned a degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

I share this information with you out of respect. You deserve to know who is behind the news you consume and the standards they use in news gathering and editing.

Transparency increases trust.

We aim to earn that from you each and every day.

To help explain our process - and in the name of transparency - I'm also sharing our fact checking guidelines.

Our fact check program will uphold the standards and ethics that guide our entire newsgathering and reporting process.

We will be fair and balanced in the material we choose to fact check. We will promptly address claims of inaccuracy and, if an error is found, we will publish a correction.

How do we find material to fact check?

Our reporters, who are in 46 states and Washington, DC, covering local, state and national issues, are always on the lookout for material on their beats.

We also want to hear from you. Email us at

How do we choose our topics?

We look for material from elected and appointed officials, those running for office, those who represent public officials and other public figures. We monitor speeches, debates, events, TV appearances, news stories, social media, campaign ads, news releases and more for material.

In selecting the items to fact check - because we can't check them all - we try to focus on topics that are in the news or that could be confusing to people. Though we don't keep count, we do strive for balance - ideologically and geographically - in our fact checks.

How do we report a fact check?

In almost all cases, our fact checks are reported by reporters who are subject matter experts. The reporting could include:

  • Asking the person who made the claim for evidence to back up the assertion, then researching that material.

  • Interviewing topic experts, including those with varying perspectives.

  • Reviewing primary source documents related to the claim.

  • Seeking official, nonpartisan sources such as city halls, statehouses and Congress for bills, voting records and budget information; state and federal records for corporate information, and agencies such as the IRS and FEC for relevant data.

All sources used will be hyperlinked and/or listed at the bottom of every fact check.

How do we edit our fact checks?

First, before a fact check is undertaken, a reporter reviews the claim with an editor and discusses the approach.

Once the story is written, an editor carefully reviews the fact check for tone and to ensure the sourcing is transparent, relevant and trustworthy. The editor and reporter work together to confirm that every statement in the story is accurate and the wording used is fair. They then choose a rating.

After that, another fact check editor reviews their work. If there are any concerns, they will enlist the guidance of a senior editor.

A copy editor will read the story before it is published.

What are our ratings?

We've tried to keep our story format and ratings system as straightforward as possible.

You'll generally see this structure in each of our stories:

A short explanation of what we're checking.

A section describing the context, where we'll explain the circumstances around the topic as well as what we've discovered in our research.

A summary of our findings.

Those findings will explain how and why we arrived at one of these ratings:

True - the content in the item we fact-checked was supported by our research.

Partly False - some of the content in the item was not supported by our research.

False headline - the headline was false or misleading, though the content in the item was supported by research.

False - the content in the item was not supported by our research.

What if we need to correct something?

We recognize that mistakes happen - or that new information can emerge after a story is published - and we pledge to address all concerns quickly, fairly and transparently.

If a correction, clarification or update to a fact check is warranted, we will note that in the story and explain to readers why the change was made. Any correction or clarification would also be published on our corrections log.

Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Benjamin C. Bradlee "Editor of the Year" and proud mom of three. Comments? Questions? Reach her at or follow her on Twitter here.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why USA TODAY fact checks people and statements in the news


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