Check Yourself Before You ...

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When I was a young medical reporter, my first editor used to rap me on the knuckles when I made a mistake. "Come here, Ms. Shaw," he'd say, summoning me from across the newsroom. Then we'd look at my copy side by side, he pointing out the errors before I corrected them. This was 20 years ago. We know what happened. The gatekeepers have all but disappeared. 

Today is International Fact Checking Day by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. From USA Today:

"Compared to the rest of the world, the growth of fact-checking efforts in the U.S. slowed down this past year, according to a report from Duke University’s Reporters’ Lab. 

That isn’t good news in a country where millions of people get information from three major platforms that are beset by fake news, misinformation and uninformed opinion disguised as fact — and where the leaders of Google, Twitter and Facebook have been anywhere from lukewarm to intransigent in addressing their roles in the dissemination of bad information ... 

there are quite literally not enough journalists in the world to combat the misinformation spreading like sci-fi slime throughout Twitter and all of social media."

It goes on to share some good news, including organizations that are stepping into to bridge the gap, including charitable foundations supporting quality journalism and libraries (let's hear it for the libraries.)  

The truth is: it's daunting to consider all the misinformation out there about alcohol use and its implications. I'm someone who was taught the rigorous discipline involving fact checking, writing, and editing. It's a tough thing to learn and to do, and takes years of practice. And, because of economic factors and broken business models, it's not a skill that's held in high value. 

It doesn't pay.

My career shifted away from news to lifestyle writing, where the facts can become a bit more slippery. But there was still a value on it, and I was lucky to work with tremendous copy editors who called me and my writers out on things that could be incorrect. 

Fast forward to 2018, when we're negotiating a sea of content: the great democratization. Everything is "content," and has been for a while (so long that some say we're in a post-content landscape.) Bots and trolls and news organizations and influencers and brands and individuals all in the soup, influenced by algorithms and foreign countries and marketing budgets. 

It can be hard to figure out the truth. 

But we believe the time has come to start talking about the reality of the impact of alcohol. We know it's a loaded topic. But it's a vital one.

Today, on International Fact Checking Day, we ask people to consider taking a pledge to get the facts on the impact of alcohol, and to consider that when creating, consuming, and sharing content. Here are some ways you can do that. (And yes, we understand that these tips may vary according to organization, editorial mission and lens, and your business goals. They are guidelines).

  • The International Fact Checking Day site has some great resources for both consumers and creators. Of particular note is "8 Ways To Avoid Falling For The Next Fad Study," which is helpful when examining a headline that touts the benefits of alcohol. 
  • When it comes to studies, also consider the funding. The National Institutes of Health is currently doing an examination into whether NIH officials improperly urged the alcohol industry to help fund a 10-year, $100 million study on the health benefits of moderate drinking. 
  • If you are a content creator, regardless of where you sit in your organization, you have power as to what you create and share in terms of alcohol. We know alcohol-related content performs and aren't suggesting to abandon it entirely. But consider context. There's a difference in sharing a story about a wine pairing vs. sharing a video with a person practicing yoga with a bottle of beer in her mouth (looking at you, Health Magazine.)
  • If you share content about alcohol, share the full picture. Create content that reflects that growing reality of a world where people do not drink for a variety of reasons, including health, religion, dependence/addiction and just because it doesn't serve them. Don't care about it for editorial reasons? Consider the business implications. A growing number of businesses are looking ahead and creating products for this huge group (see: Forbes/ The Biggest Trend in Cocktails is Non-Alcoholic Drinks, PopSugar/The Rise In Sober Social Events). 
  • Back to the dependence and addiction piece: Today more than 20 million people in the US have substance abuse disorders. Rightly so, we hear a lot about opioids, but alcohol still kills more people. The bad news: problematic drinking is dramatically on the rise, particularly among women. You can't ignore this. It's real. 

These are just a few tips. We'd love to hear more from content creators and decision makers across the media landscape about how they approach alcohol-related content. I will not rap anyone on the knuckles, but do want to partner with individuals and organizations who are interested in exploring how we can change this landscape together.