Seares: CNN pop-up box sharpens good, old tool of print journalism: fact-checking


LAST Tuesday (Nov. 27), CNN used “something new” in TV/cable news coverage. As White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended U.S. President Trump’s rejection of the report on projected increase of global warming, the cable news network ran a side panel along with the video of Sanders doing the briefing.

Sanders was dismissing the administration report there will be a three-degree spike in warming in this century even as the CNN graphic run alongside her on the screen lists in bullets the facts that dispute the press secretary, including the point that 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies took part in the assessment.

Not a call-out, not real time

It is not a call-out but it supplies facts that help the audience judge what Sanders is saying. It is not done in real time but close to it. Research is done ahead of the broadcast and used in parts of the news event where it is useful.

The method, fact-checking, is an old tool in print journalism. The reporter provides background in the news and the editor adds a graphic, usually boxed, or a sidebar piece to improve the reader’s understanding.

A news report on the killings in Cebu, for example, comes with a separate list of victims, dates, places, special circumstances and the like. The sidebar may be glimpses on background of victims, common methods of killing or views of stakeholders.

Time of use is novel

What is novel in the CNN fact-checking is the time of use: it doesn’t wait for the writing of the story and its reporting on air. It runs the add-on information together with the raw report. Sanders is talking; CNN is also giving data that may or may not back her claim. In subsequent reports of the event, in this case, Sanders’s briefing, when “storified” or commented on, the fact-check may still be used, constantly updated, depending upon further research and developments.

In sum, CNN is taking the advantage of broadcast news to slightly higher level, to do what print media does and what broadcast also does, fact-check, but to do it faster and with more impact. The facts are as immediate as the claims being disputed.

Practice improved

It’s an improvement over what broadcast news already has been doing. Like when it follows a news report, with video clip, of Trump insisting he is not a racist with past clips of Trump indicating he is. The perfect foil to and the evidence against a lie. With the CNN “innovation,” it is moved further ahead: at the same time the lie is being said or just said.

Some news sources have become more blatant and devious in lying to cover up a wrong or mistake or to distort information and mislead. Media also need to be more diligent and active in exposing the falsehood or attempts at subverting the facts.

Print challenged

Print journalists may just have to do better in fact-checking – more substantially and as promptly as their news cycle allows.

Fact-checking is a tool that newspapers pioneered and supposedly excel in, hands down. The sad, ironic thing is that many newspapers have given it up for the quick sorties that broadcast news is known for: the brief and superficial reporting.


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