From The Guardian:
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of conversation about factchecking in the publishing industry. Two high-profile authors have had their work’s accuracy questioned by their sources, leading to something of a reckoning in the book world. Many people are asking how these inaccuracies could have happened, but those familiar with the publishing process say they aren’t surprised.
Last month, Sally Kohn’s book The Opposite of Hate debuted to much media attention and celebrity endorsement. However, shortly after the book dropped, Call Your Girlfriend podcast co-host Aminatou Sow headed to Twitter to dispute a quote that had been attributed to her in the book and said that Kohn, a political pundit who appears on CNN, “admitted … that she did not go back to factcheck sources in her book”. In response, Kohn released a statement that said, in part: “I … regret that I did not double-check before using Aminatou’s quote and attributing it to her.”
Just two weeks later, Amy Chozick released her book Chasing Hillary. Chozick was the New York Times reporter assigned to cover Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016. Clinton’s daughter Chelsea tweeted at Chozick about what she said were factual inaccuracies in the book, and noted that no one ever contacted her to verify them. The facts Chelsea disputes are about receiving a keratin hair treatment and popping champagne on election night. For her part, Chozick says she hired a factchecker and referred to her book’s author’s note, which reads: “This book is a work of nonfiction in that everything in it happened. But this is not a work of journalism, in that the recollections, conversations and characters are based on my own impressions and memories of covering Hillary Clinton and her family.” Chozick’s PR representative at HarperCollins did not return a request for comment.
These controversies have raised concerns about the accuracy and standards of published books. Similar concerns were circulated earlier this year when Michael Wolff released his book about Donald Trump’s White House, Fire and Fury. But what anyone who has never published a book might not realize is that the bar for factchecking books during the editing process is low, if it even exists at all. Not only that, it’s common for publishers to never have a conversation with authors about the issue of factchecking and to assume that getting it right is entirely on the author.
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“On a fundamental level, a publisher has to trust that authors will perform due diligence when it comes to verifying and sourcing facts, and that they will not knowingly misrepresent events or individuals in their work,” explains Hannah Wood, an editor who has worked in publishing industry since 2008. “This is the essence of the author warranties and indemnities section of a contract. Boilerplate language varies, but it generally affirms that the work is original, that it’s not libelous and that it’s accurate.”
Wood says that as the publishing industry stands now, constraints make it nearly impossible for publishers to be able to dedicate the kind of time and financial resources that would be required for a full factcheck on every book they publish. So while publishing houses provide copy-editing, proofreading and legal services who keep an eye out for issues of libel and intellectual property. Factchecking is usually outside the scope of what they can feasibly do.
“In the broad sense, factchecking is going back and checking on the sentence level for specific facts like stats and descriptions and that sort of thing,” says Brooke Borel, author of The Chicago Guide To Fact-Checking. “But also higher level, ‘Do all of these facts add up to something that’s true?’”
And while magazine journalism is usually thoroughly factchecked by a third party, “books are almost NEVER fact checked,” science writer and former factchecker Erin Biba said on Twitter (though she notes in a follow-up email that technically, her tweet itself hasn’t been factchecked). “Publishers don’t pay to factcheck books so writers have to pay out of their own pockets and that’s rarely possible. When I was a factchecker I rarely used a book as a source because they were often inaccurate and contained errors.”
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But with so many examples of high-profile books whose facts have been disputed in such a short period of time, it might be time for the book publishing industry to take a look at its standards and consider whether there might be a better way going forward.
Link to the rest at The Guardian
PG has a couple of immediate responses:
- He assumes all writing about contemporary US politics is fiction so he won’t be disappointed.
- These days, the traditional publishing industry has practices, but no standards.