Live fact checking: a great opportunity for news outlets

Journalists often cite tireless reporting and dedication to facts as part of the professionalism that sets them apart from bloggers. Live fact checking of debates would provide a real opportunity for news organizations to demonstrate these skills and provide the public with the truth. But, as Poynter Online’s Amy Gahran points out, there wasn’t a whole lot of live fact checking going on in the U.S. during the vice-presidential debates, and it seems there was little or none done in Canada.

Live blogging the debates, however, has proven to be a very popular use of media resources. Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells noted (at 8:22 p.m. on the eve of the English language debate) that the Maclean’s mega-team of live bloggers commenting on the French debate was “the ninth Top Post
on WordPress.”

There were multiple voices from multiple locations commenting and cracking jokes about every minute detail of the Canadian leaders debate. Everything from Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s English to Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s “hippie earthmommy” reputation was fair game. These are certainly entertaining for readers (I enjoyed the evening flipping between the two debates with a few live blog windows open on my laptop) and no doubt a lot of fun for columnists who can spout freely on the most minor details. But how about adding to the commenting crew a team of reporters and fact-checkers to take the leaders to task on their answers? If the CNN or CBC teams had fact checkers on hand to post to the ticker, it could have given a real value-add to viewers wondering about the facts when the various “that’s just not true” statements were made.

The National Post live bloggers added a few wikipedia links here and there to point to particular facts or obscure references, not so much in relation to policy facts but more for terminology or historical references.

There have been some examples of live fact checking in the U.S. For example, the Washington Post posted to its Fact Checker blog live during the first presidential debate, but here in Canada, it seems the live action online during the debates is limited to comments and humour.

Poynter’s Gahran notes:

“This coverage gap amazes me. Live fact checking seems like a natural
fit that plays off the strengths of established news brands. After all,
traditional journalists often tout fact-checking as one of the most
valuable services they provide — and people do indeed claim to value
fact checking and often cite it as a reason for loyalty to mainstream
news brands. Offering this service during debates (or even
Congressional hearings or other live civic events) could be a
substantial traffic draw and brand-builder.”

If you came across any Canadian live fact checking that occurred during the debate that we missed, we’d love to hear about. Comment below or send us an e-mail to