Thirty years ago this Tuesday was the anniversary of Janet Cooke’s fabricated Washington Post article, “Jimmy\’s World“. The article talked about the life of “Jimmy”, an eight year old drug addict. The story was published and ended up being awarded the Pulitzer Prize. However, Cooke later admitted that the entire thing had been fabricated. Not only did Cooke not interview this boy, he didn’t exist.
With her article, Cooke broke a serious ethical code. One of the things every journalist needs to do is provide readers with informative and accurate news. “Jimmy’s World” definitely did not do this. A story of this kind takes advantage of a reader’s trust.
What Cooke did was an intential fabrication, and was deliberately misleading. However, this is not the only kind of misleading story journalists have to worry about. Even where there exists an honest intent to write a good story, there can be misleading content. Factual errors from poor note taking or inaccurate press releases can happen. While they are not malicious, these errors are still serious and need to be prevented.
Fact checking is a way to safeguard a story against having misleading content in it. The research process involved may not work for all stories, such as Cooke’s, but it can definitely help prevent mistakes like these from happening.