Still, there are manifold benefits to the culture of checking. Aside from providing a measure of accountability, it also enables mass participation and engagement. Those benefits were present in one of the better recent examples of crowdsourced fact checking. As Nancy Nall Derringer described in a story for Slate in 2008, a motivated collection of people helped expose a serial plagiarist working in the White House. Nall Derringer spotted Timothy Goeglein’s first offense, and then readers of hers and other blogs stepped in to provide a whole stack of other examples of theft. From her article:

Saying the news cycle moves at an ever-increasing pace doesn’t even qualify as a cliché anymore. But this felt like a new record. Reporting in one minute, writing in one hour, a whole career undone in one day. Reading the comments piling up on the original post was a surreal experience, as one reader after another checked in with evidence, with links. It was journalism as hive mind. “Everyone wants to play now,” someone wrote after posting a link.

In my book, I devoted one chapter to the history and subsequent decline of professionalized fact checking, and another to the rise of the people I deemed the “new checkers.” The bottom line, I wrote, is that “In this, the age of the fact-checking readers and well-funded media monitors, press outlets that do not dedicate themselves to a high level of accuracy can expect to be called to account.”

The ability to identify errors, engage people in the reporting process, and enable them to contribute in meaningful ways is the true value of the checking obsession. Everybody wants to play, and we should find better ways of bringing them on the field.

Correction of the Week

“Writing from memory in a piece defending his work against critics – Why my book is not sexist, 21 September, page 21, G2 – Stephen Bayley said that he had been accused by the presenter of BBC Woman’s Hour of producing a “coffee-table compendium of filth for perverts”. Jenni Murray has objected that she would never use the word compendium (the same goes for filth). The correct wording of the question she posed in the 9 September programme was: ‘Has he reclaimed images of the female body or produced a coffee-table playground for perverts?’” – The Guardian

Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star.