Two-and-a-half years ago, I joined the Google News Lab as a fellow to strengthen its mission of collaborating with journalists and entrepreneurs to drive innovation in news. Of the many areas I worked with the industry on, including data-backed journalism and visual storytelling, I kept hearing one request: help was needed with online verification and fact-checking.
Online misinformation was a new challenge for everyone in India - including the news media. Some journalists described it as the biggest issue facing the industry. Many who I met during my workshops were keen to know how they could pitch in to tackle this growing menace and help their readers sift facts from the sea of misinformation around. And as the first and probably the only verification trainer in the country back then, I was equally determined to do all I could to help.
The verification curriculum offered by the Google News Lab could help them navigate this maze. Built in consultation with experts at the First Draft, it provided them the best practices of online verification adopted by fact-checkers worldwide.
Verification quickly became one of the most sought after trainings offered by the News Lab. In the 20 months that followed, I travelled over 133,000 miles, across 25 cities, and conducted over 150 workshops for almost 6500 journalists and journalism students. It was a rare opportunity for journalists to learn new skills on the job, and the classes were oversubscribed.
To reach as many journalists as possible and offer in-depth and hands-on training, we announced the launch of the Google News Initiative India Training Network in June 2018, and invited interested journalists to sign up. The program was launched in partnership with Internews, DataLeads, BoomLive, AltNews, First Draft and Storyful. After my fellowship ended, I went on to lead this network as its Program Director working for Internews.
The call for sign-ups received an overwhelming response. Journalists from newsrooms across the country - including senior editors from publications in different languages - applied and sat through the four-day bootcamps, where fact-checkers from India like BoomLive and AltNews and trainers from First Draft and Storyful provided hands-on training.
Seven bootcamps and several weeks later, we had a team of fact-checkers better equipped to combat online misinformation and also motivated to help colleagues around them do the same.
In the six months after the launch of the network, these ‘truth warriors’ went on to pass on the skills they had learnt, to over 5,000 journalists and journalism students. Some of them also launched fact-checking initiatives and regular columns in their newsrooms. Thanks to their commitment, readers now have ways to sift through and recognize authentic information.
The journalist in me feels immense gratification to know that through each of those who joined us in this fight against misinformation, I continue striving to ensure that millions of readers get uninhibited access to nothing but the truth.
There is no underestimating the scale and complexity that online misinformation poses for India and other countries. Empowering fact checking networks is but one part of a solution that requires actions from many players, but it is a step in the right direction.
Posted by Surabhi Malik, who works with Internews as the Program Director for Google News Initiative India Training Network. Prior to this, she was the Google News Lab Teaching Fellow for India for two years. She has also been a digital journalist for over a decade handling key editorial responsibilities in different newsrooms in India
(Banner photo: Surabhi Malik at a GNI training session. Credit GNI)