• Reaching larger audiences through fact-based journalism •

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INTRODUCTION

Why talk about
“engagement”?

An increasingly important concept

For some years now the concept of “engagement” has become increasingly central in the journalism industry and its crisis.

Many journalists and academics think that the news ecosystem needs to better understand how to engage with its audience if it wants to rebuild trust with readers and citizens.

It’s the same for fact-checking journalism, which is a niche that is gaining momentum. One of the most urgent problems for fact-checkers is indeed how to allow facts to prevail over disinformation and misinformation on and offline. In other words, how to use engagement tools to fight fast-moving hoaxes.

A major problem is that it’s not immediately clear what is meant by the term “engagement”. «The term has been used to describe everything from the way audiences respond to already-published news to the way they participate in the production of that news», wrote the Columbia Journalism Review in 2019.

The Fact-Checking Engagement Project doesn’t want to have an academic approach in this area. For example, in this handbook, you will not find an analysis of what “engagement” is or how’s best to measure it.

We think that these topics are very relevant and that they need to be studied deeper, also in the fact-checking community, to develop clearer goals and clearer methods. Before refining our comprehension of engagement in the fact-checking ecosystem, we think however that it is necessary to clarify what has already been done by fact-checkers.

Describe what
is working

Different formats for different audiences

In our handbook, we have decided to adopt a more descriptive approach: collect how fact-checking organizations around the world experiment with different formats to reach larger audiences and lay the groundwork for a more engaged fact-based journalism.

As far as we’re aware, The Fact-Checking Engagement Project is the first attempt at systematizing the status quo in the fact-checking community. This community is becoming bigger year after year, but it’s still in its adolescence with regards to understanding which formats are suitable for different audiences. We plan to update the handbook by collecting new stories on engagement tools and techniques.

In October 2020 the Duke Reporters’ Lab found that the number of active fact-checking outlets in 83 countries around the world has topped 300, about 100 more than one year before (Figure 1). As of March 2021, there were 85 verified active signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at Poynter Institute.

Figure 1. Number of fact-checking outlets worldwide, 2014-2020 – Click to enlarge

«All fact-checkers continue to distribute their fact-checks online», the State of fact-checking report 2020 explained in June 2020. «Some still use print and television», but they are a minority.

The Fact-Checking Engagement Project focuses mainly on how the IFCN members are using online engagement tools with their audiences.

A long way ahead

We need to better understand “engagement” in fact-based journalism

As we said before, there is still a lot to do to better understand and quantify the concept of “engagement” in fact-based journalism.

But today there are also significant growth opportunities for fact-checkers around the world to increase their audiences; Facebook numbers and Instagram interactions support this conclusion.

For example, we have found that more than half of the IFCN members don’t regularly update their Instagram profiles. This is a missed opportunity. We used the social monitoring platform Crowdtangle and we calculated that fact-checking content – such as images and videos – on Instagram have a larger “interaction rate” (which weighs posts’ interactions with the account size) than Facebook. From March 2020 to March 2021, on average IFCN members’ Instagram pages registered a 1,9 interaction rate against a 0,4 interaction rate on Facebook.

We are aware that it is too simplistic to equate the concept of  “engagement” with “interaction rate”. But this crude data simply shows that many new fact-checking organizations could start investing in simple strategies if they want to enlarge their audiences and try to create relationships with them.

This handbook

Our handbook is divided into seven chapters, each dedicated to a particular tool or format.

Each chapter describes the current situation of the relevant format and how they are enriching the daily newsroom activities, with a final box dedicated to single case studies from the United States, Serbia, Turkey, Italy, India, Spain, and Brazil.
Click here to read the first chapter