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Does the New York Times Fact Check?


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Today's New York Times (April 7, 2008) has a pretty interesting article about the cuisine in Italian restaurants (in Italy), and how much of it is being cooked by foreign immigrants. How does that affect the cuisine, how do Italians feel about it, etc. etc. All of which is quite lovely to read, if you can get past this sentence:

Last month, Gambero Rosso, the prestigious reviewer of restaurants and wine, sought out Rome’s best carbonara, a dish of pasta, eggs, pecorino cheese and guanciale (smoked pig cheek; for the aficionados, pancetta is not done) that defines tradition here.

But what is really interesting is that the above quote is from the print edition - the online edition actually says:

guanciale (cured pig cheek; for the aficionados, pancetta is not done)

So, between the time I read the paper this morning and writing this post, they must have received lots of emails letting them know that guanciale is cured but not smoked.

My initial response to the article was going to ask whether they fact checked at all - but they may have - after the article was published.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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well, the only three star Michelin restaurant in Rome has a German chef cooking Italian food...

the definition of guanciale isn't something that would be likely to be fact-checked (journalistic "fact-checking" primarily involves names, spellings and dates....unless questions are raised after the fact).

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the definition of guanciale isn't something that would be likely to be fact-checked (journalistic "fact-checking" primarily involves names, spellings and dates....unless questions are raised after the fact).

Well, that makes sense. But I guess I was hoping (or thinking, silly me) that anyone writing an article about Italian food, in Italian restaurants, in Italy, would actually know what the heck guanciale is.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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journalistic "fact-checking" primarily involves names, spellings and dates....unless questions are raised after the fact

Depending on the publication, fact checking can be far more thorough than that -- and often is. Having written for the New York Times on a few occasions, I can tell you that every factual claim I've made has had to be substantiated by references provided to my editor. Definitions of culinary terms are exactly the sort of thing the New York Times fact checks rigorously, so my guess is that this one just slipped through the cracks -- perhaps because the story didn't get edited by the dining-section team (it seems to have come from the Rome bureau as a news story).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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journalistic "fact-checking" primarily involves names, spellings and dates....unless questions are raised after the fact

Depending on the publication, fact checking can be far more thorough than that -- and often is. Having written for the New York Times on a few occasions, I can tell you that every factual claim I've made has had to be substantiated by references provided to my editor. Definitions of culinary terms are exactly the sort of thing the New York Times fact checks rigorously, so my guess is that this one just slipped through the cracks -- perhaps because the story didn't get edited by the dining-section team (it seems to have come from the Rome bureau as a news story).

correct. but they don't normally check your references. unless it's a very high-profile story. the basic problem is logistical. way too much content in the Times every day...you'd have to have hundreds of people doing the checking.

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journalistic "fact-checking" primarily involves names, spellings and dates....unless questions are raised after the fact

Depending on the publication, fact checking can be far more thorough than that -- and often is. Having written for the New York Times on a few occasions, I can tell you that every factual claim I've made has had to be substantiated by references provided to my editor. Definitions of culinary terms are exactly the sort of thing the New York Times fact checks rigorously, so my guess is that this one just slipped through the cracks -- perhaps because the story didn't get edited by the dining-section team (it seems to have come from the Rome bureau as a news story).

correct. but they don't normally check your references. unless it's a very high-profile story. the basic problem is logistical. way too much content in the Times every day...you'd have to have hundreds of people doing the checking.

The New York Times does have hundreds of people doing the checking. The editorial staff is huge, and even routine stories go through levels of editing and checking. They have always checked my references, and have often come back to me to argue about what those references do and don't support.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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journalistic "fact-checking" primarily involves names, spellings and dates....unless questions are raised after the fact

Depending on the publication, fact checking can be far more thorough than that -- and often is. Having written for the New York Times on a few occasions, I can tell you that every factual claim I've made has had to be substantiated by references provided to my editor. Definitions of culinary terms are exactly the sort of thing the New York Times fact checks rigorously, so my guess is that this one just slipped through the cracks -- perhaps because the story didn't get edited by the dining-section team (it seems to have come from the Rome bureau as a news story).

correct. but they don't normally check your references. unless it's a very high-profile story. the basic problem is logistical. way too much content in the Times every day...you'd have to have hundreds of people doing the checking.

The New York Times does have hundreds of people doing the checking. The editorial staff is huge, and even routine stories go through levels of editing and checking. They have always checked my references, and have often come back to me to argue about what those references do and don't support.

This is absolutely no reflection on your reportorial skills, more on what I assume the Times's stance is re: fact-checking: I would imagine that their assumption is that Times staff reporters are journalistically trained to get it right and are, in essence, their own fact-checkers. (That assumption explains why they've gotten themselves in hot water with people like Jayson Blair. They trust them.) So if the chef article was staff-written, then no, it probably wasn't fact-checked as well.

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If anything, the Jayson Blair situation made the Times far more careful about fact checking. However, it's also a different scenario: there you had a reporter lying about first-person claims, which are a gray area for fact checking and sometimes can't be checked at all. I have not only written for the Times but also know many reporters and editors there, as well as at most of the other major papers in New York, such as the Wall Street Journal (where my sister is an editor). Based on a large number of data points I'm saying that the New York Times is very attentive to fact checking. That doesn't mean nothing ever slips through -- clearly, today a minor error with no impact on the news value of the story was missed by the various levels of editors -- but you'll find that the standard of accuracy at the New York Times is incredibly high and reflects a massive, continuous fact-checking effort that is second to none (except maybe the Wall Street Journal and some non-daily publications like the major news magazines).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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So from the comments above, I assume that fact-checkers are assigned to a particular section? So that the staff members checking (for instance) on food stories are experienced in the sorts of points that they might need to check?

Because of course in this context, the question of whether guanciale is cured or smoked isn't a big deal. But if it that minor error were to pass in an article on -- for instance -- some local salumi maker, it could be a much bigger deal.

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As far as I know -- and you'd have to ask someone who actually works at the New York Times to be sure about this -- there is no such position as "fact checker." Rather, every article in the New York Times is reviewed by at least two and often three or four layers of editorial staff. Fact checking occurs at every phase: the reporter is supposed to do it, the first editor is supposed to do it, the copy editor does it, maybe another editor sees the piece, etc. In terms of who's assigned to what section -- again, this is something a real New York Times employee could speak to better than I -- I believe each section has an editorial team, however I believe the copy editors and various additional editorial staff are assigned to pieces on an as-needed basis. But yes, in short, I think a food-section piece would be more carefully checked for food definitions than a piece elsewhere in the paper. Not because there's nobody checking, but simply because the food-section people have more knowledge and experience in the subject area. So, for example, someone without a food background might not even question that "cured" means "smoked" -- the average literate person could easily assume those are interchangeable terms. Whereas the dining-section editors wouldn't.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 2 months later...
Perhaps Russ Parsons can chime in?

I work for several publications. At one, every single fact is checked, important or not. At another, my editor knows enough about food to ask the right questions. Often interns are doing the first layer of fact-checking-that includes making phone calls and correcting translations. They're smart. The funny part is, there was no reason to break out guanciale, and not pancetta...

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When I've written for The New York Times upon occasion, the fact checking is huge, more questions and queries than any other publication I've ever worked with. There were questions I never even thought of as I wrote the stuff, and if I couldn't verify and back up my statements, they were not included.

The fact-checking is very concientious, in-depth, and complete.

Edited by marlena spieler (log)

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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