I didn’t bother to fact-check this post

In June, I wrote an entry called Why I’ll probably never be a staff writer. I had been growing frustrated with the lack of substance in many sites’ content, and a poorly written Gothamist piece sent me over the edge.

A few excerpts:

Writing for an online conglomerate means focusing on profitable topics – topics that generate “clicks”, and thus revenue.

One way to guarantee clicks is to take a questionable position in a heated debate, and let the passionate members of either side share away.

[A] fact-heavy, responsible approach would not create nearly enough interest, and not enough revenue.

Fact-checking is passé. It costs money and might result in a reduced number of clicks, costing even more money. It’s a death spiral.

Thus we get hoaxes like the Elan Gale Thanksgiving Twitter feud, which actually did us a service by showing how many people think it’s acceptable to tell a complete stranger to “eat my dick”. Probably 95% of the links to the story I read before the hoax was revealed had some sort of “This is how you do it!” or “Go Elan!” from the person sharing.

The pinnacle of this came when Daily Intelligencer’s Dan Amira was forced to print the following correction in November, one that might have pushed him out the door at a reputable news organization:

*The sentence “Few motorists would dare blow through a red light, even if it appeared safe to do so” has been removed from the second paragraph. A 2000 report indicates that drivers in New York City run 1.23 million red lights each day, which is more than a few.

As of today, the piece has been shared 604 times on Facebook, and has gathered 157 comments. Not bad for a piece that took probably 45 minutes to scribble off. (Who cares about the intern’s time; she should be happy her name is in print.)

Enter Luke O’Neil, who dissects the culture of the click in a brilliant piece in Esquire.

[I]n the ongoing decimation of the publishing industry, fact-checking has been outsourced to the readers. Not surprisingly—as we saw with the erroneous Reddit-spawned witch-hunt around the Boston Marathon bombing—readers are terrible at fact-checking. And this, as it happens, is good for business because it means more shares, more clicks.

Now that I’m starting to focus on writing for other outlets, this fact of life is a dagger. My pitches (and eventual articles) are scrupulously reviewed for errors, and I won’t put anything in that doesn’t pass the smell test if I don’t have extra documentation to back it up.

But maybe I shouldn’t waste my time; after all, I could be getting clicks galore just by putting up some half-baked series of GIFs with vague annotations. Each time someone clicks “share” on such an article, America gets a little bit dumber.

The closing line of June’s piece will close this one, as well.

I love getting huge numbers on a post, but I refuse to sacrifice quality or reputation to do so. And I’m fine with that.

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6 Responses to I didn’t bother to fact-check this post

  1. Grant says:

    Your time spent fact-checking is not wasted. Please don’t suggest you might forgo it, even in jest. Responsible and intelligent writers seeking truth rather than confirmation bias or clickbait are in strong demand from sincere and thoughtful readers. People like you can lead by example.

    I implore you to not let the garbageweb of consumption-calculated media and follow-the-interest-money “news” discourage you, however oppressive its visibility and influence may seem in our modern times. We are in the early teens of the internet, and strength is required by those who possess the courage and constitution to push its development in a direction healthy for society.

    • Keith Williams says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Grant. Certainly, I have no intention of forgoing fact-checking.

      When things like this seem overwhelming, it’s always nice to be reminded many people do appreciate well-researched articles!


  2. Jenet Levy says:

    Eighty seven percent of writers check facts. I just made that up.

  3. Harley N says:

    You are making a difference in the new “infotainment” world and we appreciate it.
    Old school research is not for the mentally embellished.

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