Get your facts right, they said. All the companies featured in the publication I was working on were multinationals and household names. And their top people had been interviewed for the accompanying worldwide TV series, so it wasn’t like I was being asked for investigative journalism. A quick cross checking, was all that was required for a ‘fast facts’ sidebar, to break up the page and draw the reader into reading the longer piece.

Double checking or double crossed?

What should have been a ten minute task turned into a quest for the truth with more twists and turns than the Da Vinci Code. Here’s why:

  • A multinational company may invest in a website running to several hundred pages but there won’t be an English language translation/version.
  • It’s possible to buy shares in a stock listed company but impossible to find the date when it was established (vaguely 1940s Germany).
  • Listing the country, city or even address of the HQ of a global empire is considered a sign of weakness and valuable space should instead be used to wax lyrical about the spiritual values driving the business.
  • The content will be woefully out of date, and contradictory, even for world leaders in the marketing and advertising industry who may employ 12, 6,000, 20,000 in 2, 30, or 65 countries depending on which page of their website you happen to be on.
  • Wikipedia is not a reference tool, and it’s as correct as saying ‘I heard it somewhere’. Yet it is widely quoted as though repeating something enough times makes it right.

What did this tell me? Writers and journalists have a responsibility to check facts. There’s no excuse for lazy reporting. The internet should, in theory, make it easier and quicker. It doesn’t, because there are now more places where company information appears and these need to be updated.

Businesses could go a little way to ensuring we get our facts right by presenting messages consistently across the website, annual report, media releases, the ‘work for us’ recruitment page, the FAQs or any other touchpoint. The media team would then handle fewer enquiries of the ‘what was your turnover figure for last year?’ kind.

Dull, dull, dull

Perhaps half the issue is the lack of glamour. Fact checking is boring. Updating facts is dull. But someone’s got to do it. And if I’m being professional in checking I’d like someone – the web content editor or corporate communication team or whoever – on the other side to be equally diligent. Or is that too much to ask?