Democracy relies on the media to make its citizens well-informed and meaningful participants in civic life. This, of course, doesn’t always happen, especially when you're relying on TV news.
That’s when the fact-checkers come in. In the November/December issue of Utne Reader, Eric Kelsey and I wrote an article on the "fifth estate": journalists who devote themselves to checking other journalists’ facts.
The Columbia Journalism Review, a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nominee, jumped into this fray once again with two new offerings. The publication first relaunched the Campaign Desk, which looks at the presidential race. Here’s CJR on the mission of the Campaign Desk:
We’ll look at who's doing interesting, original reporting and who's being taken in by spin; we’ll focus on how and why the narratives that come to define a candidate get started and relentlessly repeated, and if they are off base, we’ll try to set them straight. We’re on the lookout for misleading statistics, partial truths and oversimplifications, glittering generalities, and other language crimes that can infect the coverage.
Campaign Desk writers have covered topics as diverse as journalists demanding coffee from John Edwards at an all-night campaign stop during the Iowa caucus to giving the full story behind a scuffle between an AP reporter and Mitt Romney.
The second offering by CJR is The Observatory, which of rakes through the not-always-peer-reviewed muck of science journalism. The Observatory opened with an article about how new, collaborative web-technology is affecting science writing. With all the spin, inaccuracies, and half-truths bandied about in the media, these CJR projects will have their work cut out for them.