James joined Australian Associated Press in 1999 after several years working as a journalist for newspapers in the NSW Hunter Valley and a stint freelance writing in London. He helped establish AAP’s digital operations during the early 2000s before becoming Sydney bureau deputy editor and later moving into roles in news production and features. James was also part of a three-year project to improve AAP’s editorial, news, data and content delivery systems.
You recently switched from an AAP news editor to working for AAP FactCheck. How different is it?
AAP FactCheck is like nothing I have ever done in over 30 years as a journalist. It is fast paced, multifaceted, highly nuanced, challenging and very rewarding. We FactCheck statements made by public figures about issues that are in the public interest. It requires a deep dive into a topic to determine if the author of the statement is being truthful. It’s a highly structured and transparent process in that each paragraph in a FactCheck carries a reference linking back to the source of that information. It allows AAP’s FactChecks to be, in turn, fact checked.
How do you do a FactCheck?
AAP FactCheck examines contentious statements (quotes) published in the Australian media by public figures. Our team then identifies the verifiable elements of each contested claim and discusses the most relevant, trusted sources to draw on. From there we set about verifying the facts of the statement. This might include contacting the public figure who made the statement and asking them for the source of their claim as well as turning to government reports, freedom of information documents, published reports, studies and research papers as well as data and policy and media statements to establish the truth.
What are some of the most inaccurate claims you’ve checked?
Over the five-week federal election campaign, AAP FactCheck found 21 false among 46 claims investigated. A memorable one was from Agriculture Minister David Littleproud claiming that Australia “produces the most environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre in the world”. No small statement. After several emails and phone calls, the minister’s office offered no evidence to support the claim. AAP FactCheck’s research found that Australia did not produce the most “environmentally and ethically sustainable food and fibre in the world”. The Food Sustainability Index (FSI) ranked Austria, with a score of 79.9 out of 100, not Australia, as the leader in sustainable agriculture in 2018. The Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University also publishes an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which ranks countries on environmental sustainability and performance including agriculture. The EPI ranked Australia 53 out of 177 nations for agriculture. AAP FactCheck found the minister’s claim was false.
Has working at FactCheck allowed you to flex different journalistic muscles?
When you ‘re working for FactCheck, you’re being a journalist, researcher and information and data collector and investigator to dissect and analyse a statement as to whether it’s true or false or somewhere in between. AAP FactCheck is public interest journalism or in the words of English novelist and journalist George Orwell who once said journalism was: “Printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”
Do you ever use media releases as part of your FactChecks?
Yes, on many occasions during the NSW and federal election campaigns we were combing through media releases from political parties, politicians and lobby groups to determine what had been said and promised. Political party policy announcements were particularly useful.