Spotted an excellent posting by Craig Silverman in the Columbia Journalism Review. We have all stood in line at the grocery store and perused through the often sensational headlines/articles from the National Enquirer. I’ve always wondered how the publication goes about checking their sources and substantiating what’s published.
Silverman interviewed Barry Levine, the executive editor/director of news at the National Enquirer.
Levine told Silverman “obviously we want the public to believe the stories we’re writing but things are different because we’re in the business of revealing secrets … there’s obviously a lot at stake, so the vetting process as it relates to sources really is the most important part of the process.”
Levine, noted Silverman, said that no two Enquirer stories are the same in terms of their verification requirements.
“We have a very particular system that is probably more elaborate than any other newspaper or magazine in America,” Levine says. “We have a battery of devices available to us, and I’ll use as many or all that I feel necessary to bring in a story.”
Silverman outlined some of the safeguards:
Independent Corroboration: Levine regularly has multiple reporters hit the pavement to see if they come back with information that corroborates what the paper has already received from a specific source. Usually, the reporters have no idea what their colleagues are up to.
Polygraphs: The weekly has relationships with several polygraphs experts. “If we have very revealing information about a celebrity or newsmaker, we will have the source sit down and be administered a polygraph test based on specific questions about what they told us,” Levine says.
Affidavits and Recordings: Silverman said that the Enquirer will often have off-the-record sources sign a legal affidavit that attests to the accuracy of their information, and also ensures they will appear in court to testify to their information. This helps the weekly satisfy its legal team, though Levine told Silverman that in a decade with the publication he’s never found himself in a courtroom. Another step is audio taping and videotaping the source to provide a clear testimony. This is to ensure that “a few months down the road they won’t change their story.”
Legal Vetting: The Enquirer’s legal team is very much a part of the vetting and verification process. Levine told Silverman that anything in a story that is new information specific to the Enquirer’s reporting must be sourced and provided to the company’s lawyers. As an example, the Enquirer lawyers required editors and reporters to go back and get additional corroboration before giving the green light to publish about Tiger Woods’s infidelity.
Traditional Fact-Checking: There are six employees in the magazine’s Florida-based research/fact-checking department. They check quotes with people who have gone on the record and verify information such as the spelling of names, addresses etc.
Food for thought next time you see some of those screaming headlines – and here are just a few that the Enquirer currently has online:
Oh-Oh-7!: Daniel Craig’s Steamy Gay Kiss
Tom Cruise Meltdown
Zac and Vanessa: Trial Marriage
The Night Lana Turner’s Daughter Stabbed Her Lover to Death with a Butcher Knife