Knight Science Journalism Program At MIT Launches Digital Handbook For Science Editors, Online Fact-checking Project

Thursday, December 10, 2020
by Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT

The Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) Program at MIT has announced the publication of a new digital handbook for science editors, offered without cost to journalists around the world, and a new fact-checking site that includes a searchable database of fact-checkers and a free teaching module for university students.

Both of these pioneering projects are part of a redesign of KSJ’s home website and can be found under the resources tab on the home page. Other updates include a pictorial history of the program’s alumni, dating back to its founding in 1983, and expanded resources for science journalists in areas ranging from data journalism to Covid-19 reporting.

“With the redesign, we were really aiming to assemble a set of resources that could be useful to the entire science journalism community — from the student who’s looking to get their career off the ground to the veteran journalist who wants to brush up on specific skills,” says Ashley Smart, KSJ’s associate director. “And we were lucky to have some of the world’s best journalists contribute to the effort.”

The new and expanded resources offered by KSJ belong to its longtime mission of advancing science journalism in the public interest. The program, best known for its internationally-renowned fellowship program for mid-career science journalists, also publishes the award-winning digital science magazine Undark, runs training programs for a wide range of journalists, and offers the annual Victor K. McElheny award recognizing outstanding local science journalism, all of which are also showcased on KSJ’s new website.

The “KSJ Science Editing Handbook” received generous support from the Kavli Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. “Written by some of the most widely celebrated science editors and reporters working today, this book will empower you to ask the right questions, enable you to spot faulty reporting, and educate you on best practices,” says Deborah Blum, KSJ director and one of the handbook’s co-editors.

Comprised of chapters authored by reporters and editors at publications including The New York Times, Scientific American, STAT, Popular Science, and more, the handbook covers everything from making sense of statistics and vetting scientific experts to reporting on controversial topics and designing science-centric visuals. The handbook is available to read online, or to download and share as a PDF.

“We think lots of people can benefit from this handbook, but we really wanted to make sure it spoke to busy editors who might not have expertise in science journalism,” says Joshua Hatch, director of digital platforms and audience at The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, who co-edited the handbook. “If we can help them provide more and better science journalism to the public, then we’ve achieved our goal.” Nicholas Jackson, director of growth content for networking organization Built In and an independent publishing consultant, also served as a co-editor. 

The program also launched the KSJ Fact-Checking Project, a first-of-its kind set of free resources for journalists, editors, students, educators, and anyone seeking to learn more about editorial fact-checking, a process aimed at ensuring accuracy of a story before it is published or broadcast. The project was funded with generous support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The Fact-Checking Project site includes a searchable, sortable database of fact-checkers available for hire, an academic module for journalism educators seeking to teach the principles of fact-checking, and materials to establish or reinforce fact-checking departments in newsrooms of any size. The project was directed by Brooke Borel, author of the “Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking,” and an articles editor at Undark magazine.

“In today’s media ecosystem, it’s important for journalists to deliver stories that are accurate and truthful,” Borel says. “We’ve worked hard on these resources and we hope they make it a little easier for staff writers, freelance journalists, editors, fact-checkers, and journalism students and educators to learn about the process and start applying it to their work.”

The Fact-Checking Project team also plans to host free virtual workshops for journalists, fact-checkers, and editors. These online events will replace the invitation-only, expenses-covered workshops previously hosted by KSJ for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. When available, more information on the proposed digital training sessions will be posted on the KSJ events page.  

KSJ at MIT is the world’s leading science journalism fellowship program. It is housed in MIT’s acclaimed Program in Science, Technology, and Society, located in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. The KSJ vision was recognized early as an essential one in supporting and developing science journalism by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — the program’s primary funder — as well as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Kavli Foundation.

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