Finding truth when reporting on disasters

A new handbook offers guidelines from relevant experts

The European Journalism Centre has released a guide for journalists that codifies best practices for verifying digital content while reporting on emergencies. Called “The Verification Handbook,” the guide is will be available here after noon today and will available in print and as an ebook early next month. There is also an Arabic version in the works. The handbook was written by Poynter’s Craig Silverman and EJC’s Rina Tsubaki edited by Poynter’s Craig Silverman and was copyedited by our own Merrill Perlman.

In an emergency, the guide says, it’s especially important to be able to separate signal from noise, hoax from truth: “[J]ournalists and humanitarian and emergency workers must become adept at using social media and other sources to gather, triangulate and verify the often conflicting information emerging during a disaster. They require proven processes, trustworthy tools, and tried and true techniques. Most of all, they need to gain all of the aforementioned before a disaster occurs.”

Journalists can do this by, among other techniques, keeping in mind the need to contact people directly, being skeptical of something that seems “too good to be true,” and becoming familiar with of-the-moment tools and research methods. More specifically, the guide covers how to verify user-generated content, photos and videos, and how advance preparation can help.

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg.