FactStream

New Tech & Check projects will provide pop-up fact-checking

With advances in artificial intelligence and the growing use of the ClaimReview schema, Reporters' Lab researchers are developing a new family of apps that will make pop-up fact-checking a reality

By Julianna Rennie – January 16, 2018 | Print this article

The dream of automated “pop-up” fact-checking has been around for years. The idea is that as you’re watching a political speech or a campaign debate, fact-checks would pop onto your screen in real time.

That has always seemed like a distant dream. A 2015 report on “The Quest to Automate Fact-Checking” called that dream “the Holy Grail” but said it “may remain far beyond our reach for many, many years to come.”

Since then, computer scientists and journalists have made tremendous progress and are inching closer to the Holy Grail. Here in the Reporters’ Lab, we’ve received $1.2 million in grants to make automated fact-checking a reality.

The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative, funded by Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project and the Craig Newmark Foundation, is an effort to use automation to help fact-checkers research factual claims and broaden the audience for their work. The project will include about a half-dozen pop-up apps that will provide fact-checking on smartphones, tablets and televisions.

One key to the pop-up apps is a uniform format for fact-checks called the ClaimReview schema. Developed through a partnership of Schema.org, the Reporters’ Lab, Jigsaw and Google, it provides a standard tagging system for fact-checking articles that makes it easier for search engines and apps to identify the details of a fact-check. ClaimReview, which can be created using the Share the Facts widget developed by the Reporters’ Lab, will enable future apps to quickly find relevant fact-checking articles.

“Now, I don’t need to scrape 10 different sources and try to wrangle permission because there’s this database that will be growing increasingly,” says Dan Schultz, senior creative technologist at the Internet Archive.

This works because politicians repeat themselves. For example, many politicians and analysts have claimed that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate.

FactStreamThe Reporters’ Lab is developing several pop-up apps that will deliver fact-checking in real time. The apps will include:

  • FactStream, which will display relevant fact-checks on mobile devices during a live event. The first version, to be tested this month during the State of the Union address Jan. 30, will be a “manual” version that will rely on fact-checkers. When they hear a claim that they’ve checked before, the fact-checkers will compose a message containing the URL of the fact-check or a brief note about the claim. That message will appear in the FactStream app on a phone or tablet.
  • FactStream TV, which will use platforms such as Chromecast or Apple TV for similar pop-up apps on television. The initial versions will also be manual, enabling fact-checkers to trigger the notifications.

Another project, Truth Goggles, will be a plug-in for a web browser that will automatically scan a page for content that users should think about more carefully. Schultz, who developed a prototype of Truth Goggles as a grad student at the MIT Media Lab, will use the app to experiment with different ways to present accurate information and help determine which methods are most valuable for readers.

The second phase of the pop-up apps will take the human fact-checker out of the equation. For live events, the apps will rely on voice-to-text software and then match with the database of articles marked with ClaimReview.

The future apps will also need natural language processing (NLP) abilities. This is perhaps the biggest challenge because NLP is necessary to reflect the complexities of the English language.

“Human brains are very good at [NLP], and we’re pretty much the only ones,” says Chris Guess, the Reporters’ Lab’s chief technologist for Share the Facts and the Tech & Check Co-op. Programming a computer to understand negation or doublespeak, for instance, is extremely difficult.

Another challenge comes from the fact that there are few published fact-checks relative to all of the claims made in conversation or articles. “The likelihood of getting a match to the 10,000 or so stored fact-checks will be low,” says Bill Adair, director of the Reporters’ Lab.

Ideally, computers will eventually research and write the fact checks, too. “The ultimate goal would be that it could pull various pieces of information out, use that context awareness to do its own research into various data pools across the world, and create unique and new fact-checks,” Guess says.

The Reporters’ Lab is also developing tools that can help human fact-checkers. The first such tool uses ClaimBuster, an algorithm that can find claims fact-checkers might want to examine, to scan transcripts of newscasts and public events and identify checkable claims.

“These are really hard challenges,” Schultz said. “But there are ways to come up with creative ways around them.”

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A big year for fact-checking, but not for new U.S. fact-checkers

Following a historic pattern, the number of American media outlets verifying political statements dropped after last year's presidential campaign.

By Mark Stencel – December 13, 2017 | Print this article

All the talk about political lies and misinformation since last year’s election has been good for the fact-checking business in the United States — but it has not meant an increase in fact-checkers. In fact, the number has dropped, much as we’ve come to expect during odd-numbered years in the United States.

We’re still editing and adding to our global list of fact-checkers for the annual census we’ll publish in January. Check back with us then for the final tally. But the trend line in the United States already is following a pattern we’ve seen before in the year after a presidential election: At the start of 2017, there were 51 active U.S. fact checkers, 35 of which were locally oriented and 16 of which were nationally focused. Now there are 44, of which 28 are local and 16 are mainly national.

This count includes some political fact-checkers that are mainly seasonal players. These news organizations have consistently fact-checked politicians’ statements through political campaigns, but then do little if any work verifying during the electoral “offseason.” And not all the U.S. fact-checkers in our database focus exclusively — or even at all — on politics. Sites such as Gossip Cop, Snopes.com and Climate Feedback are in the mix, too.

The story is different elsewhere in the world, where we have seen continuing growth in the number of fact-checking ventures, especially in countries that held elections and weathered national political scandals. Again, our global census isn’t done yet, but so far we’ve counted 137 active fact-checking projects around the world — up from 114 at the start of the year. And we expect more to come — offsetting the number of international fact-checkers that closed down in other countries after the preceding year’s elections.

Still, the number of U.S. fact-checkers accounts for about a third of the projects that appear in the Reporters’ Lab’s database, even after this year’s drop.

So why do so many U.S. fact-checkers close up shop after elections? PolitiFact founder Bill Adair, who now runs the Reporters’ Lab and Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, asked that question in a New York Times op-ed on the eve of last year’s election. He attributed the retraction in part to the fact-checkers’ traditional focus on claims made in political ads, which was how the movement began in the early 1990s. Also, newsroom staffing and budgets often shrink after the votes are counted. That’s too bad, because, as Bill noted, “politicians don’t stop lying on Election Day.”

A handful of U.S. newcomers began fact-checking in 2017. One was Indy Fact Check. It’s a project of The Nevada Independent, a nonprofit news site based in Las Vegas. The Independent got its feet wet in January with a look at the accuracy of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s 2017 State of the State address before launching a regular fact-checking series in June.

An “Almost Abe” rating from Indy Fact Check in Nevada. (The Nevada Independent)

To rate the claims it reports on, Indy Fact Check uses a sliding, true-to-false scale illustrated with cartoon versions of Abraham Lincoln. The facial expression on “Honest Abe” changes with each rating, which run from “Honest as Abe” and “Almost Abe” on the true side to “Hardly Abe” and “All Hat, no Abe” on the false side.

One of Indy Fact Check’s regular contributors is Riley Snyder, who previously was the reporter at PolitiFact Nevada at KTNV-TV (13 Action News). KTNV was one of several local news outlets owned by Scripps TV Station Group that briefly served as PolitiFact state affiliates before closing down the partnership — after the 2016 election, of course. So in Nevada at least, one site closes and another opens.

Another new player in the U.S. fact-checking market this year was The Weekly Standard. This conservative publication based in Washington has a dedicated fact-checker, Holmes Lybrand, who does not contribute to the political commentary and reporting for which the Standard is generally known. With this structural separation, it recently became a verified signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles. The Standard is owned by Clarity Media Group, a division of the Anschutz Entertainment Group that also publishes the Washington Examiner and Red Alert Politics.

By January, we may have a few more additions to add to our 2017 tally, but that won’t change the bottom line. This was a year of retraction in the U.S. That’s similar to the pattern our database shows after the last presidential election, in 2013, when PunditFact was the only new U.S. fact-checker.

But the numbers began to grow again a year later, during the midterm election in 2014, and continued from there. Because of the large number of candidates and the early start of the 2016 presidential debate and primary process, a number of new fact-checkers launched in 2015. So we’ll be watching for similar patterns in the United States over the next two years.

Student researcher Riley Griffin contributed to this report.

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ZenMate

The wide world of fact-checking apps

From phone apps to browser extensions, the landscape of fact-checking tools is growing — but how many of them are useful?

By Bill McCarthy – December 6, 2017 | Print this article

It is no secret that news consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to politics.

Sure, they can visit journalism’s traditional truth-seeking outlets — such as PolitiFact or FactCheck.org — if they are looking for the whole story. But what if they want a quicker fix? What if they want to know, with the click of a button, if the article they are reading may include fabricated content? Well, there may now be an app for that — in fact, many apps.

The wave of falsehoods that dominated the 2016 election cycle has inspired several enterprising companies and individuals to create mobile applications and web browser extensions to promote fact-checking and detect stories with falsehoods.

In a recent analysis for the Reporters’ Lab, I identified at least 45 fact-checking and falsehood-detecting apps and browser extensions available for download on the Apple or Android app stores, the Google Chrome web store and Firefox. Many share similar design characteristics and functionality.

Several of the best apps and extensions simply make fact-checks more accessible. These apps, including Settle It! Politifact’s Argument Ender, let users view and filter through fact-checks aggregated from online fact-checking sites. (Disclosure: Bill Adair, director of the Reporters’ Lab, contributed to the creation of this app.) Some, like The Washington Post’s RealDonaldContext, are specifically tailored to fact-check President Donald Trump’s tweets.

A few extensions — such as FakerFact or NewsCracker — evaluate credibility online by generating algorithmic scores to predict whether particular web pages are likely true or false. I found both extensions questionable because it is not clear which inputs are driving their algorithms. But they show nonetheless that fully automated fact-checking may not be so far away — even if FakerFact and NewsCracker are themselves lacking in transparency and value.

Other extensions enable users to crowdsource fact-checks. Users of these community-oriented platforms can flag and provide fact-checks online for other users to see. Where these extensions fail, however, is in training their users to fact-check. My analysis noted that several users have submitted fact-checks for opinion statements — and several others have disputed statements on a hyper-partisan basis.

Many of the existing apps and extensions are designed to spot, detect or block false stories. Some alert readers to any potential “bias” associated with a website, while others flag websites that may contain falsehoods, conspiracy theories, clickbait, satire and more. Some even provide security checks for spear phishing and malware. One drawback to these apps and extensions, however, is that their assessments are subjective — because all such apps and extensions are discretionary, none can honestly claim to be the end-all arbiter of truth or political bias.

In summary, some of the identified apps and extensions — like FactPopUp, our own Reporters’ Lab app that provides automated fact-checks to users watching the live stream of a political event — show signs of being on the cutting edge of fact-checking. The future is certainly bright. But not all of the market’s apps and extensions are highly effective in their current form.

Fact-checking and falsehood detection apps and extensions should be considered supplements to — not replacements of — human brain power. Given that caveat, below are three of what I found to be the most refined options. They are ready for action as news-reading supplements.

GlennKessler

Glenn Kessler

GlennKessler, available for free download on Apple’s app store, is an aggregation of fact-checks from Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post’s Fact Checker. Kessler’s son, Hugo, created the app when he was 16 years old.

Users of GlennKessler can view fact-checked claims and filter them according to the number of “Pinocchios” they received or the political party of the speakers. The app also includes videos related to fact-checking and interviews with Glenn Kessler, as well as a game where users can test their fact-checking knowledge. As an added feature, users can learn about and email questions directly to Kessler himself.

Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon

Fact Check Icon

The Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon, a free extension for Chrome browsers, purports to provide “bias” ratings for more than 2,000 media sources online. While browsing the internet, users are presented with a color-coded icon denoting each website’s “bias.”

A related extension, the Official Media Bias Fact Check Extension, highlights “bias” within Facebook’s news feed. Users can ask the extension to eliminate sources fitting a particular “bias” rating from appearing in their feed. Unfortunately, this “collapse” feature brings with it the possibility that users will abuse the extension to reinforce existing filter bubbles within an increasingly fragmented social media landscape.

It is important to remember as well that Media Bias Fact Check claims to find “bias” according to its own labeling methodology. This is a complicated assessment, so users should take the ratings with a grain of salt. As committed as a site may be to the truth, there can truly be no definitive rating for something so sensitive as political bias.

ZenMate SafeSearch and Fake News Detector

ZenMate

ZenMate SafeSearch and Fake News Detector, a free extension for Chrome browsers from the Berlin-based startup ZenMate, signals whether a website is “good” or “suspect.” Users see ratings not only of a website’s credibility, but also of its security and ownership. The extension does not work for articles appearing on social media.

Per the extension’s description, ZenMate SafeSearch “aggregates and enriches various databases and feeds” in order to assess the credibility of various webpages. I found this low level of transparency alarming. As with Media Bias Fact Check’s extensions, users should be wary that ZenMate’s ratings are by nature subjective. The concept of “bias” is likely more complicated for an algorithm to score.

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StoryTracer

Duke graduate develops Chrome extension to identify source reporting

The tool aims to help news consumers understand what they are reading by identifying the original source of a story

By Bill McCarthy – November 14, 2017 | Print this article

A former Duke Reporters’ Lab researcher has created a new tool to help readers discover the story behind the story.

Gautam Hathi, Trinity ‘17, has just published StoryTracer in the Google Chrome web store. The tool, a free extension for the Chrome browser, identifies source reporting behind news stories on the internet. It works by checking whether links embedded in online news articles connect to similar content elsewhere.

When users navigate to a webpage, StoryTracer will try to pinpoint the original source by examining the links on the page. If a likely source is identified, a pop-up will appear to indicate that the page might be based on content from one or more other sites. When links connect to sites that are not related to the webpage at hand, StoryTracer does not highlight them as likely sources.

StoryTracer StoryTracer

“It does this repeatedly, so once it follows a link, it will look at all the links on those pages and so on,” Hathi said.

Hathi, who studied computer science at Duke and currently works as a software engineer, started the project in April. He said the idea came out of conversations with colleagues at the Reporters’ Lab and The Chronicle, Duke’s independent student newspaper.

His first reason for initiating the project was to contribute to the fight against fake news.

“A component of [the fake news problem] was that people would read things and not understand where the information was coming from,” Hathi said. “You would have these chain stories where someone would report something and someone else would report it without mentioning who got to it first.”

Hathi said he also wanted to help deliver credit to publications responsible for original reporting. While a writer for The Chronicle, he often watched as local — and sometimes national — news outlets based stories off the paper’s reporting.

“It was always frustrating to us when others would use our reporting and basically get to publish the story on their sites, using the work that we had done without really giving us as much credit as we could have gotten,” he said.

The ultimate goal behind StoryTracer is to elevate readers’ understanding of the news they are consuming, Hathi said.

“I’m not under the illusion that this is going to revolutionize the way people read news,” he said. “But I did want to raise awareness about the fact that it is often easy to confuse what you’re reading with original reporting.”

StoryTracer

The code for StoryTracer is available on GitHub, so beta testers and users can set up and experiment with their own versions of the program. Feedback can be submitted through the Chrome Web Store.

Hathi said he is hoping beta testers will help identify “corner cases where things might not work as expected.” He has already found some complex website designs that disrupt StoryTracer’s ability to locate source reporting. In its current form, StoryTracer can sometimes miss sources that should be recognized as original reporting.

StoryTracer is not Hathi’s first experiment with projects designed to facilitate news consumption. In 2016, he built FactPopUp, a tool that allowed fact-checking organizations to provide live automated fact-checks via Twitter to users watching the live stream of a political event on their computers. He also contributed to the initial programming behind Share the Facts, a widget that helps users spread fact-checks across the internet.

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Kansas Fact Meter

Local fact-checking is hard to find when voters need it most

Reporters' Lab study finds that poor promotion hid much of last year's reporting on the accuracy of political candidates across the U.S.

By Riley Griffin – October 23, 2017 | Print this article

A lot of good fact-checking took place last year at the local level. But good luck finding it.

Regional fact-checkers are not using basic digital publishing practices — such as landing pages, tagging and social media — to promote their fact-checks, according to a report co-authored by Duke Reporters’ Lab co-director Mark Stencel and research coordinator Rebecca Iannucci.

The report, published by the Poynter Institute on Oct. 16, was derived from work by the Lab’s student researchers, who reviewed nearly 40 regional media outlets that fact-checked political claims during last year’s election cycle.

One of those outlets, The Topeka Capital-Journal, did have a landing page for its “Kansas Fact Meter.” But the landing page was inactive and did not showcase the majority of its fact-checks dating back to 2014, or the ones it published after January 2016.

Tim Carpenter, the Capital-Journal’s Statehouse Bureau Chief and the founder of the Kansas Fact Meter, said he did not know the fact-checking project had a landing page, but he admitted it might be beneficial to have one.

“I’ve never done a full accounting [of the Kansas Fact Meter],” Carpenter said in a phone interview with the Reporters’ Lab. “Having a page…people could go to directly — or a link to all of them — is a great idea.”

The Lab’s report noted that local news organizations that partnered with PolitiFact as one of the national fact-checker’s state affiliates got a boost from working with a website that was already structured in ways to help generate traffic. But half of the state and local fact-checking sites the Lab’s student researchers reviewed were more like the Kansas Fact Meter — a standalone project, often championed in the newsroom by handful of journalists, like Carpenter.

Carpenter said he wished regional news organizations had more technological resources and research assistance at hand in order to make fact-checks easily accessible.

“It’s probably my fault for not hitting that designation when I file stories,” he said referring to a specific tag on the Capital-Journal’s publishing platform that would easily group fact-checks on the site. “I will do better.”

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Knight Foundation, Facebook and Craig Newmark provide funding to launch Duke Tech & Check Cooperative

New automated fact-checking project will build apps and coordinate with other researchers around the world

By Bill Adair – September 25, 2017 | Print this article

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project and the Craig Newmark Foundation are awarding grants to the Duke University Reporters’ Lab for a $1.2 million project to automate fact-checking.

The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative will bring together teams from universities and the Internet Archive to develop new ways to automate fact-checking and broaden the audience for this important new form of journalism.

During the two-year project, computer scientists and journalism faculty from Duke, the University of Texas at Arlington and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo will build a variety of new tools and apps. Some will help journalists with time-consuming reporting tasks, such as mining transcripts, media streams and social feeds for the most important factual claims. Others will provide instant pop-up fact-checking during live events.

The Reporters’ Lab will also coordinate and share its automation efforts with journalists and computer scientists across the country and around the world. The Tech & Check Cooperative will connect the leaders of similar projects through its relationships with the International Fact-Checking Network, the global association of fact-checkers, and awardees of Knight Prototype Fund grants to address misinformation. The Lab will host an annual meeting and will hold regular video conferences.

Knight has provided $800,000 for the project and the Facebook Journalism Project has contributed $200,000. The Newmark Foundation has pledged $200,000.

A multitude of people and solutions are required to tackle the problem of misinformation in the digital age. The Reporters’ Lab is tackling the issue through an effective, multi-pronged approach, bringing together a network of journalists and technologists to build new tools that will promote the flow of accurate news, while strengthening their connections with major technology companies,” said Jennifer Preston, the vice president for journalism at Knight Foundation.

“The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative will tap into the power of technology to improve and expand fact-checking on a global scale,” said Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook. “This important initiative will bring together some of the most respected experts in the industry along with new digital innovations to create practical and efficient tools for journalists and newsrooms.”

 “News consumers like me want the truth, which requires more and better fact-checking,” said Newmark, founder of craigslist and the Craig Newmark Foundation. “The Duke University Tech & Check Cooperative will soon become a vital part of the fact-checking network, and I’m excited to work with them to help build a system of information we can trust.”

The Tech & Check Cooperative will incorporate technology and content developed in Share the Facts, a Duke Reporters’ Lab partnership with the Google News Lab and Jigsaw. Share the Facts provides a way for the world’s fact-checkers to identify their articles for search engines and apps.

“Automated fact-checking is no longer just a dream,” said Bill Adair, the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke and the leader of the Tech & Check Cooperative. “Advances in artificial intelligence will soon make it possible to provide people with real-time information about what’s true and what’s not.”

Partners in the Tech & Check Cooperative include:

● The University of Texas at Arlington, which has developed ClaimBuster, a tool that can mine lengthy transcripts for claims that fact-checkers might want to examine.

● The Internet Archive, which will help develop a “Talking Point Tracker” that will identify factual claims that are used repeatedly by politicians and pundits.

● Truth Goggles, a project created by developer Dan Schultz and the Bad Idea Factory to provide pop-up fact-checking for articles on the web.

● Digital Democracy, an initiative of the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, which will develop ways to identify factual claims from video of legislative proceedings in California.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit  knightfoundation.org.

About Facebook

Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.

The Facebook Journalism Project was created in January 2017 to establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry.  FJP focuses on three pillars: collaborative development of new products; tools and trainings for journalists; and tools and trainings for people.

About Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark is a Web pioneer, philanthropist, and leading advocate on behalf of trustworthy journalism, voting rights, veterans and military families, and other civic and social justice causes. In 2017, he became a founding funder and executive committee member of the News Integrity Initiative, administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which seeks to advance news literacy and increase trust in journalism.

About the Reporters’ Lab

The Duke Reporters’ Lab is a project of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at the Sanford School of Public Policy. The Lab conducts research into fact-checking and explores how automation can be used to help journalists and broaden audiences for their work.

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News labels

Reporters’ Lab study finds poor labeling on news sites

As news executives discuss efforts to improve trust, survey finds most sites don't include labels showing article type

By Rebecca Iannucci & Bill Adair – August 15, 2017 | Print this article

Editor’s note: Today we’re releasing the results of our study on article labels. We’ve published an account of our findings and a few recommendations on Poynter.org. The post below has slightly more detail on our methodology and a link to our data.

To assess how well news organizations are labeling their articles, the Duke Reporters’ Lab examined articles from 49 publications.

The study was prompted by the ongoing public debate about declining trust in the news media. Some journalists and educators have said one way to improve trust is for people to better understand the type of content they’re reading.

Online journalism provides readers with access to thousands of news sources, but readers may not understand the type of article they’re reading. Our hypothesis was that many news organizations do not label article types to indicate whether they are news, analysis, opinion or a review.

Students in the Lab analyzed 49 news organizations — 25 local newspapers and 24 national news and opinion websites. Students collected 25 articles from each organization — five articles from five different sections of the publication. For each piece of content, they note, among other things, if that article had a label, what the label said, if the label was clearly defined anywhere on the page and the size, location and color of the label.

Our findings:

* Of the 49 organizations analyzed, the Reporters’ Lab found that only 20 of them — 40 percent — labeled article type at least once in at least one section of their website.

* Of the 20 organizations that did label article types, 16 of them — 80 percent — only used labels in the opinion section. Those labels included editorial (used on 15 news sites), commentary (seven sites), column or columnist (six sites) and letters (seven sites).

* Our students found none of the publications labeled content well across every section of the website.

* Of the 29 organizations that did not label content, 13 of them were local newspapers and 16 were national organizations.

* These 29 organizations often labeled the section of the website in which an article belonged such as sports or entertainment, but they did not specify the type of article being read.

The raw data of our analysis can be viewed on this spreadsheet.

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West Wing Writers

What we did on our summer vacation — Part 3

Students in the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program are holding a variety of summer internships

By Andrew Tan-Delli Cicchi – August 10, 2017 | Print this article

During the past several weeks, we have taken a close look at the summer internships held by students in the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program and the Duke Reporters’ Lab. The students below are working on a range of projects involving journalism, from sports and education reporting to speechwriting and political communications. (Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.)

Hank Tucker – The News and Observer

For Hank Tucker, spending his summer making the rounds of North Carolina’s college sports scene is great preparation for his role as the incoming sports editor for the Duke Chronicle. In the last two months, he has covered Jay Bilas, Duke graduate and ESPN college basketball analyst, Chuck Amato, the ex-North Carolina State head football coach, and Lincoln Riley, the new head football coach at the University of Oklahoma.

Tucker is covering local sports as an intern at the News & Observer in Raleigh. The relative dearth of competitive action in the summer months has challenged Tucker to approach sports news from fresh, interesting angles.

He recently reported on Raleigh’s bid for a Major League Soccer team and also wrote an article on efforts to revive Rickwood Field, the oldest professional baseball park in America.

“My favorite days are when I get to leave the office to cover an event or interview somebody locally,” Tucker said.

Working at the N&O has opened Tucker’s eyes to the existential struggles of the newspaper industry. Due to financial constraints, the newspaper discontinued its copy desk, which means that Tucker is solely responsible for the accuracy of his stories.

How news is read online is changing the role and metrics of the journalist, he discovered.

“I’ve known for a while and learned in classes that print newspapers are dying and becoming less profitable, but I’ve experienced it firsthand this summer,” Tucker said. “The N&O is going through a process called ‘newsroom reinvention,’ which is an effort to write more engaging stories for a digital audience and un-prioritize the print product. The beats for reporters are being reorganized and there is a much bigger emphasis on online page views.”

Tucker is keen to use this experience to amplify the Chronicle’s online presence.

“Learning more about how to reach more people and drive up online traffic has been a big thing that I’ll try to take back to school and apply at the Chronicle,” Tucker said. “Figuring out what works best in different areas of the Internet is something I never really thought about before but something that will obviously be more and more important with the way journalism is going.”

Sam Turken – WBUR

In Boston, Sam Turken is getting a firsthand experience of the city and its pressing social issues. In the past two months as an intern at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, Turken has covered everything from wealth disparities and affordable housing shortages to the city government’s response to a surge in violent gun crime.

Turken is interning at WBUR’s Newscast unit, which produces short news bulletins that are broadcast on NPR on the half-hour.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know that my writing is being read for NPR,” Turken said. “Newscast reports on every breaking development throughout the day. We’re among the first ones on the scene of every new notable story. And there has been no limit to what I’ve been able to write about and cover.”

In addition to reporting with Newscast, Turken has also had the opportunity to work on a variety of stories and projects with the digital team. He has helped build research databases on possible sanctuary cities in Massachusetts and engage East Boston residents in discussions about climate change through Listening Posts, which are digital forums that host community conversations.

Turken, the incoming managing editor of the Duke Chronicle, is an aspiring public radio journalist. He said that he has been able to learn about the mechanics of radio production through working with seasoned WBUR reporters and producers.

“Unlike most traditional print news writing, writing for radio involves writing more like the way you speak,” Turken said. “You have to present complicated information and topics in a way that is easy for listeners to understand. I have become more comfortable doing that over the past two months. I also have learned new tricks to capture and keep listeners’ attention.”

Julia Donheiser – Chalkbeat

This summer, Julia Donheiser is reporting across the landscape of education issues. From New York City, she has covered stories ranging from the local to the federal, from the classroom to the policy desk, from the 2017 National Teacher of the Year to Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Donheiser is an intern at Chalkbeat, an online, nonprofit publication that focuses on education reporting. Working at Chalkbeat is Donheiser’s first experience in the newsroom, and she said she has learned a lot about the nature of online journalism.

“I’m not big on social media at all,” Donheiser said. “In fact, I only have Twitter because my bosses throughout the years have pressured me into getting an account for the sake of journalism. It’s kind of crazy to see the additional readership we get just from tweeting things or sharing them on Facebook.”

At Duke, Donheiser is studying data journalism through Program II, a program that enables students to design their own interdisciplinary curriculum. This summer, she has appreciated the opportunity to practice the blend of long-term research and reporting she wants to do in the future.

During the past two months, Donheiser’s main project has centered on discrimination against LGBT students in the Indiana voucher program. She has analyzed more than 300 private school handbooks, interviewed school administrators on policies and built research databases.

“It’s really cool to be reporting on something and know that it’s going to stir up the discussion, at the very least,” Donheiser said. “It’s also kind of scary to think that I’m putting out data that’s going to make a lot of people angry, but that’s the nature of watchdog journalism.”

West Wing WritersCarly Stern – West Wing Writers

Working at West Wing Writers, Carly Stern is learning how the nuances of language can influence public policy discourse.

Stern is an intern at the Washington, D.C.-based speechwriting and political communications firm, which was started in 2001 by speechwriters from President Clinton’s speechwriting shop.

During the past two months, Stern has worked on projects focused on reproductive rights, U.S. foreign policy, stigma surrounding AIDS and workplace diversity.

“On a day-to-day basis, I provide research assistance and perform a range of writing-related tasks, but my work always varies,” Stern said. “When colleagues are looking to learn more about a new client or seeking to formulate an approach to an argument, I might take a deep dive at compiling relevant articles, institutional reports and data.”

Stern has taken many reporting classes through the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program. She said the storytelling skills she developed in those courses have been useful to her internship, where she is involved with crafting complex policy arguments into digestible narratives.

The challenge of both communications and reporting is getting readers invested in your argument, she discovered.

“The work I’ve been doing at West Wing Writers requires me to consider these questions every day,” Stern said. “In particular, my tasks require comprehensive consideration of narrative structure. Framing is crucial, because I have to create a human connection to the statistics I’m compiling.”

Stern said she has enjoyed being pushed to think outside her point of view.

“When I’m working on a memo for a client, I can’t necessarily communicate how it comes most naturally to me,” Stern said. “I have to think about the language this person would use to make the point, and contemplate which personal biases might influence his or her perspective.”

Likhitha Butchireddygari – NBC News

A rising junior and the incoming 2017-18 editor-in-chief of the Duke Chronicle, Likhitha Butchireddygari is finding that her college journalism experiences have been more than useful for real-world reporting on national stories.

Butchireddygari is an intern in the investigative unit at NBC News and has been involved in coverage of such issues as election security and the opioid crisis. She assists with research, data collection and reporting for collaborative investigative projects and also has been able to pursue her own investigations.

“So many of the skills I employ at my internship are skills I absorbed from Policy Journalism and Media Studies coursework, such as reporting from Newswriting and Reporting and data analysis from Journalism in the Age of Data,” Butchireddygari said. “I also first realized my interest in investigative journalism through an assignment for Bill Adair’s News as a Moral Battleground course. While researching an incidence of fabrication at a local Massachusetts newspaper, I realized how enthralling enterprise reporting can be.”

Butchireddygari said she has been surprised to learn of the intricacies of the television news production process. Her experiences at NBC News have reaffirmed her interest in a journalism career, she said.

“The most fulfilling part of my summer so far has been waking up every day excited to go to work, knowing that I have so much to do and contribute, and ending the day with a small sense of accomplishment,” Butchireddygari said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have a very involved internship that allows me to contribute to so many meaningful and important projects.”

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What we did on our summer vacation — Part 2

Students in the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program are holding a variety of summer internships

By Andrew Tan-Delli Cicchi – July 27, 2017 | Print this article

During the next several weeks, we will be taking a closer look at the summer internships held by students in the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program and the Duke Reporters’ Lab. The students below are working in a range of fields, from investigative reporting to data analysis and political communications. (Catch up on Part 1 of this series.)

Drew Johnson – NBC News

Drew Johnson is on the front line of the future of journalism. Johnson is interning in the Digital Strategy and Operations department at NBC News, helping the TV network explore new business models.

Johnson’s projects range from analyzing readership and advertising trends to developing strategies to monetize news content.

“My biggest project so far has involved analyzing two social media feeds under the NBC News umbrella to see how they are similar and different,” Johnson said. “In the coming weeks, I will be creating an analysis of NBC News’ push alerts to see how they can be used most effectively, while also working on a project that looks at how NBC News can best target younger audiences — a demographic that legacy media companies have traditionally struggled to capture.”

At Duke, Johnson is a Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate student and has been an associate editor for the Duke Chronicle. His experience on both the editorial and business sides of news give him a broad perspective, he said.

Johnson said he has been surprised at the level of interdepartmental collaboration his projects have required.

“Very rarely have I completed projects without working together with members of other NBC News departments,” Johnson said. “The collaboration also means that when a project is finally done, it is full-bodied, wide-ranging and includes input from many different parts of the company.”

He recently presented his work to senior NBC News executives, which he said was an important milestone at the internship.

“I know I have a unique opportunity whenever I get face time with the decision-makers, and it’s great to know that the work I’m doing informs choices that executives are making with respect to the company’s vision and how NBC News uses its resources,” Johnson said. “It’s a great feeling when you have worked hard on a project and become an expert on a specific topic and can pass that information onto people who are genuinely interested in — and have the power to act on — what I have discovered.”

Ben Leonard – Center for Investigative Reporting

During his summer internship at the Center for Investigative Reporting, Ben Leonard has enjoyed producing journalism that makes a difference.

The center publishes its work on a website called Reveal, which is also the name of the center’s public radio program and podcast. Leonard promotes the center through social media and does research and writing to help with investigative projects.

“Day-to-day, that entails a lot of searching for stories, crafting tweets and Facebook posts that tell stories fairly, and finding groups, influencers and journalists and reaching out to them with our stories,” Leonard said. “I tend to get that done early in the day, and have most of the day free to work on research for investigations when I’m not in meetings.”

Leonard said he has enjoyed working alongside seasoned reporters.

“Sitting in on editorial meetings has been extremely fulfilling because I get to see how a newsroom really works,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from just experiencing that process and getting to know our reporters. Investigative journalism sounds intimidating, but all you need to get started is an Internet connection.”

Riley Griffin – Precision Strategies

As a political affairs and strategy intern at Precision Strategies, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm, Riley Griffin helps to craft communications approaches that have an impact.

“I’ve written op-eds, media advisories and various research reports on upcoming legislation, social media trends and corporate responsibility initiatives,” Griffin said. “Because I’m assigned to many clients, every day feels different and is subject to the political whims of the moment.”

Precision Strategies has done work for clients such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Planned Parenthood. It is headed by veterans of President Obama’s campaigns.

Griffin recently went to Capitol Hill to interview protesters demonstrating against the Senate Republicans’ health care bill. She also helped with a project that examined the growing population of incarcerated women.

She collaborates with coworkers who have a variety of backgrounds, from political campaigns to data analysis and crisis management. For Griffin, a student in the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program and the Huffington Post Campus Editor-At-Large for Duke, the experience has given her some helpful insights into journalism.

“I now understand the process by which many articles about government, nonprofits, and corporations get pitched and ultimately published,” Griffin said.

Claire Ballentine – Bloomberg News

Claire Ballentine is spending the summer in Detroit writing about the future of the automobile industry. She says the city is a surprisingly upbeat place.

Ballentine is interning in the Bloomberg News Detroit bureau, where she is covering industry trends and the Big Three car companies – General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler. For someone who had little to no knowledge of the auto industry before this summer, she’s had a steep learning curve but has found the work fulfilling. As the only intern in the office, she has been able to work closely with veteran reporters.

In addition to her reports on the auto industry — one of which gave her an opportunity to ride in driverless cars — Ballentine has also helped with stories ranging from Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods to the ongoing water crisis in Flint.

“The main Bloomberg office in New York will contact reporters at different bureaus in different cities when they need information from other parts of the country,” Ballentine said. “When Amazon took over Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago, they sent me out to a Whole Foods to interview customers. I went to Flint, Michigan last week, and I interviewed people about the water crisis two years on.”

Ballentine said her experience at the Duke Chronicle, where she served as editor-in-chief during the 2016/17 academic year, has been vital for her.

“A lot of journalism is about critical thinking, and having a certain skepticism about the world,” Ballentine said. “Duke is a place where, journalistically, you can really foster that.”

Matthew Riley – NBC News

Russian hacking and collusion in the U.S. elections. Health care fraud in the opioid crisis. Cellphone smuggling into state prisons. The range of projects Matthew Riley has been working on this summer at NBC News has introduced him to the hard-hitting world of government and business corruption.

As an intern in the investigative news unit at NBC News, Riley researches, writes and helps produce investigative stories shown on programs such as Nightly News with Lester Holt and Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly. On a day-to-day basis, Riley is contacting public information officers at state and federal government departments, providing database and background research, crafting stories and occasionally assisting with production shoots of interviews.

Riley, a rising senior and public policy major, has previously written investigative stories for the Duke Chronicle, one of which debunked a Duke security guard’s claims of having been a war veteran and 9/11 responder. In the last two months, Riley has been able to develop his newswriting and research skills.

“I’ve gained a new intellectual understanding of policy, stakeholders and media-government relations,” Riley said. “I’ve learned practical skills to get the information I need. Knowing which government office to call and when to call it, how to conduct an interview most effectively and how to request hidden information that is public record are valuable skills that I practice daily.”

As a journalist, Riley said he seeks to tell stories that can change people’s lives for the better. His first byline covered the story of George Herscu, one of many Romanian Holocaust survivors who were recently recognized and compensated by the German government.

Riley has found the work of investigative journalism to be both engaging and fulfilling.

“I show up at work excited and curious about what I will discover,” Riley said. “Every day I learn something new that someone doesn’t want me to know. I get a rush out of digging into a story, unearthing information that is difficult to obtain and then using that information to fuel action and policy change through journalism. It is invigorating to know that my work can have a direct and positive impact on millions of people.”

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Duke Reporters' Lab students

What we did on our summer vacation — Part 1

Students in the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program are holding a variety of summer internships

By Andrew Tan-Delli Cicchi – July 18, 2017 | Print this article

During the next several weeks, we will be taking a closer look at the summer internships held by students in the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate program and the Duke Reporters’ Lab. The students below are all working at journalism internships, but others are exploring fields such as political consulting and speechwriting. (Continue with Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)

Asa Royal – Tampa Bay Times

In his first two months at the Tampa Bay Times, Asa Royal has written about local politics, a cemetery and an 800-pound fish. His article on a goliath grouper harassing local fishermen even made it on the front page of the print edition.

Royal is interning as a general assignment reporter at the St. Petersburg, Fla., newspaper, which means every day he may need to explore a completely new topic.

“Day-to-day, I’m pursuing pitches I’ve gotten from editors, cold-calling officials and figuring out ways to convert a notebook full of information I think is interesting into a story that readers will think is interesting,” Royal said.

Royal, a computer science major and the previous co-chair of the Duke Chronicle editorial board, had limited experience in news reporting when he began the internship. His classes for the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate had taught him the basics, but the immersive experience of day-to-day reporting has given him a much richer understanding of what journalism is like. He also has enjoyed the characters and issues about which he has written.

He closely follows national politics, so the experience of reporting on local news has been eye-opening. His most memorable story involved a black socialist party’s mayoral endorsement ceremony. Royal was struck by how local politics is different.

What matters in a mayoral race are issues such as the success of a certain school or the design of certain neighborhood infrastructure, he discovered.

Royal has been energized by the questions that the local issues raise.

“Every day, I sit next to reporters who can answer those questions,” Royal said. “They know more about their beats than I will ever know in my lifetime. So it’s been a humbling and incredible experience to spend time with them and see for myself that, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know that much.”

Mitchell Gladstone – Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia

Mitchell Gladstone is taking the plunge into the fanatical world of Philadelphia sports. A regular workday might find him covering a Phillies game, an Eagles training camp, or even the 76ers’ NBA draft preparations.

Working as a digital media writing intern for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, Gladstone reports on all four of the city’s major professional sports teams: the Phillies the Eagles, the Flyers, and the 76ers. He also covers a variety of other college and local sports.

As the incoming sports managing editor for the Duke Chronicle, Gladstone is excited to use this summer’s experience to reimagine the Chronicle’s online platforms. He said he has been amazed to learn of the intricate operations involved in running an effective news website.

“At CSN, a web producer is not only writing and editing, but constantly moving stories around on the main and team pages,” Gladstone said. “There’s also the tasks of constantly changing the main block with stories and photos, as well as setting the streams for live baseball games and other newsworthy events. It’s also critical to get out immediate breaking news tweets and app alerts, all things that I’m not used to in my daily work at school.”

Of the stories Gladstone has covered, interviewing pinch-hitter Ty Kelly after his game-winning hit for the Phillies against the Boston Red Sox ranks among his most entertaining experiences. Kelly, who had only joined the Phillies’ roster two months previously, was himself startled by his unlikely but decisive play. Gladstone is looking forward to profiling outfielder Mickey Moniak, the team’s No. 1 overall pick from the 2016 MLB draft.

Above all, Gladstone said he has enjoyed the simple pleasures of writing for a large audience.

“When you look up on the wall and see how many people are looking at your story, there’s a sense of pride knowing that you can hang with those who are doing this as a full-time, salaried job,” he said. “It reminds you that you can do whatever you love so long as you give it the passion and energy it deserves.”

Katherine Berko – ARLNow

From the visa issues of pool lifeguards to up-and-coming startups and county government decisions, Katherine Berko is focusing on community news.

Berko is interning at ARLNow, the flagship of Local News Now, a company that delivers online local news in the Washington suburbs.

“I write about everything,” Berko said. “I’ve covered events like the opening of a new tattoo shop to local leaders’ reactions to Trump’s climate decisions to a meal kit startup to homelessness in the area to a short piece about a stick of deodorant that was on top of the bus stop for over a week. Now that was funny!”

Berko, a student seeking the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate, has taken courses in newswriting and local news during her time at Duke. She was introduced to the inner workings of local government in a class called The Durham City Beat, while another class, News as a Moral Battleground, enabled her to develop an ethical lens into journalism. Both classes have given her valuable and practical insights into her current reporting.

For Berko, covering a community is a great way to get an in-depth understanding of the people and their local government. Berko’s most memorable story covered a recently-opened homeless shelter, an experience that allowed her to relate to the county’s progress in reducing homelessness. She is also working on a long-term project investigating the gender imbalance in the website’s readership.

High levels of online engagement have impressed on Berko the weight of a journalist’s responsibility in reporting news. Her piece on Trump drew more than 130 reader comments.

“The most fulfilling aspect of my internship is knowing that my boss trusts me enough to tell stories and give them the attention they deserve every time I’m assigned a new beat,” Berko said. “It’s daunting because I want to ensure I don’t miss anything in the story, but incredibly rewarding when I feel that I have taught my readers something. It’s truly an honor to know that each person reading my article is trusting my ethics, reporting capabilities and accuracy.”

Amelia Cheatham – The Orlando Sentinel

The headlines on Amelia Cheatham’s stories at the Orlando Sentinel illustrate the wide range of crime and mayhem she gets to cover every day: Polk County inmate dies while in custody. Clerk thwarts robbery at Orlando 7-Eleven. Man wanted in 2013 murder case arrested in Dominican Republic.

Following leads on law enforcement logs and social media, Cheatham’s role is to keep readers informed of news as it’s happening. Most of her stories cover local crime and law enforcement, though she has also written on the rehabilitation of turtles and Florida’s “Donut Boy.” Though she expected the newsroom to be fast-paced, the sheer velocity of breaking news still surprised her.

Covering breaking news makes her appreciate all the work that it takes to write a story.

“Previously, when I scrolled through headlines in my Facebook feed, I never truly considered the minutes, hours and days of effort someone, somewhere devoted to creating that content,” Cheatham said. “I certainly appreciated journalism as a challenging endeavor; however, I didn’t begin to understand just how tough it can be until I spent a few weeks in a metaphorical reporter’s hat.”

Cheatham, a global health major at Duke, has also been able to find opportunities at the Sentinel to fuse her interests in health and journalism. With the help of her direct editor, Janet Reddick, and the newspaper’s health reporter, Naseem Miller, she has interviewed survivors, a politician, and researchers for a piece on preeclampsia.

Ultimately, the interpersonal aspects of interviewing and reporting on subjects are what she relishes the most.

“I’ve spoken with people in the midst of several emotionally difficult situations, from the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting to the traumatic death of a close friend or relative,” Cheatham said. “It’s gratifying to know that through my journalism, I’m helping to ensure that event or individual is not as easily erased from the public consciousness. I strive to recognize the humanity behind the names on a sheriff’s office press release.”

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