This is the first installment of our series, "Fact-Checking Around the World," which highlights organizations fighting against misinformation worldwide. Check out part two.
Chequeado has a small team of eight full-time and eight part-time journalists, but the Argentinian nonprofit fact-checking organization has become a global leader in the fight against misinformation.
The organization was created in 2010 by a chemist, an economist and a physicist who were unsatisfied with traditional media and worried about their country’s public policy.
“When we were born, our political system was really polarized and the former government was openly fighting with the private media in the country,” said Laura Zommer, executive and journalistic director of Chequeado. “Citizens and readers were in the middle of that fight.”
Chequeado’s mission was clear: to improve the quality of public debate by providing open data and evidence to better inform citizens.
In the past eight years, the organization has expanded and is now training journalists from all over Latin America. It is organized around three poles — media, education and innovation — but teams work together in an open-office setting in Buenos Aires.
Every week, they gather for two hours to discuss ongoing projects and new ideas.
Zommer said that their organization’s success is a result of their approach to projects.They always ask themselves if another media outlet has already done the same project and whether they would be the organization with the best skills to tackle it.
“We try to not repeat things that people are already doing more or less well. We are always thinking, ‘how can we be different?’” said Zommer.
Within the organization, if a journalist has an idea that a co-worker would be better skilled at doing, the idea is shared.
“The other crucial thing for us is that we're a team. There are no stars. The star is Chequeado,” said Zommer. “We're trying to have more impact as an organization and not personally.”
For Zommer, it’s particularly important that Chequeado reaches people who don’t consume traditional media and political and economic news.
“The reason we need to reach out to these people is that research shows that fact-checking is much more efficient and has more impact on people who don't have strong political positions,” she said.
To do so, she said that Chequeado takes the opposite approach than most traditional media. For decades, media has presented investigations in a formal way in order to demonstrate their credibility.
“We think that we have to be serious in our investigations but not serious in the way we present them,” she said, adding that many people won’t read articles about data and statistics.
“We’re always thinking how can we reach people who don't want to listen about bad news or information that in the past was seen as boring.”
The team is constantly thinking about new formats and methods to reach audiences.
Last year, Chequeado put a giant board game, similar to the Game of the Goose, in a public park of the city of La Plata. The game told the story of their investigation into the lack of progress of the city’s public works three years after a major flood.
The same idea was repeated in four other public parks with local investigations.
“Children wanted to play and their parents had to wait for them and [as they waited] they listened, and as they listened, they got informed,” she said.
Chequeado is also targeting teenagers through their education program. In Argentina, citizens can choose to vote at age 16. After 18 years old, it becomes mandatory to cast a ballot. Journalists in the organization are particularly looking at how to reach young people through social media and the language, visuals and formats that they are acquainted with.
In order to stay transparent, Chequeado’s fact-checking methodology and business model are available on its website.
In their recently-launched investigative journalism program, they also try to avoid off-the-record quotes, show all their data and explain how they obtain their documents.
It was important for Zommer to launch an investigative program to be more proactive fact-checkers.
“With fact-checking you just analyze issues that are already in the debate and if they are not, you can't address them,” she explained.
Zommer thinks that Chequeado is succeeding at its mission. After the last Argentinian presidential election in 2015, the organization commissioned independent research to better understand Chequeado’s impact. Most of the study’s participants said that Chequeado had acted as a referee, providing facts and context during the election, according to Zommer.
With the spread of misinformation on social media, Chequeado has dedicated a section of their website, TV and radio segments to debunking false claims. However, Zommer thinks it’s more important to educate citizens about being critical.
“We believe it's important to pay attention but we're also conscious that we're not going to stop fake news from our newsrooms because creating fake news is easier and quicker than checking [it],” she said. “We can just contribute to creating more public awareness about the problem of misinformation.”
Main image CC-licensed by Max Pixel.