How often do we take for granted the information we are given to us by those in our organizations? Even though we are all working together towards the same goal, it’s worth double-checking that the information you put out as part of a communication strategy is really correct.
What does this mean? It’s not about challenging everyone who comes to you with good news or results, it’s about ensuring that when you do promote the good work of your coworkers, you are protecting yourself, them and your agency from any potential pushback as a result of information that might not be correct.
There are many reasons why this happens and the least likely of all is that someone is being purposefully disingenuous. What is more common is that people rely on second or third-hand information or are doing things because of information that they may have received elsewhere from other sources like government agencies or something they may have heard at an event or conference.
As a communicator, it is your responsibility to ensure the information that you put into the public domain is factual as this is part of the bigger picture of public trust and accountability.
Sometimes, things get published and let loose in the public domain purely by accident and are not checked before they go out.
Here are some common errors;
- numbers and statistics
- names of people, titles, locations
- historical facts
- information on Government policies
- the use of superlatives like “only,” “first” and “most”
What causes these common errors?
- working from memory
- making assumptions
- second-hand sources
So how do you go about fact-checking work from internal sources?
First and foremost, whenever you receive information from someone ask them if they know all the facts to be true and then ask them where the information has come from. They don’t need to feel like you don’t believe them. It’s good practice to cite sources or at least have them recorded somewhere so that if you are questioned, you can provide the source quickly and confidently.
It could be that they were there and saw something happen (such as the number of seizures or arrests or perhaps the number of casualties from a health crisis), or perhaps they were told by someone who was there - in which case be sure to get it from the original source.
Look to your network to verify the information. You may have a counterpart who works in an agency that can help you confirm or clarify any information. If you show them what you are intending to publish, they may spot something that you didn’t see and save you an embarrassing row back down the line.
If you can, find someone who is apolitical or independent such as an educational establishment. When it comes to policies or information on things like medical procedures, environmental information or transportation there will always be an expert.
The important thing to remember is that just because someone does the job they do, you shouldn’t take what they say as the final word. Like any good journalist, always check your facts and be professionally curious.