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According to Peckham, it was Patricia Divver — head of the TIME research department in the early 1940s — who made TIME’s fact-checking a more holistic, thorough process.“She was the first who taught her staff to worry not only about the correctness of the separate facts but whether what the facts said in aggregate added up to sense,” said Peckham.That broad view meant increased responsibility and authority for the checkers.In addition, the coming of World War II put immense pressure on them to get breaking news right. 1, 1939, a Friday, leaving the staff with nearly two dozen pages of text to check by that Monday.At first, the New York Public Library was Ford’s main source of information.She would call the Public Library’s Information Desk for “almost anything,” and was regularly there until it closed.
(These days, journalistic practices aren’t necessarily country-specific — for example, is known for having one of the world’s biggest fact-checking departments — but that wasn’t the case a century ago, and this particular kind of checking was an especially American phenomenon.) Of course, well before any separate job of “fact-checker” existed, editors and reporters would have had their eyes out for errors — but it was around the turn of the 20th century, between the sensational yellow journalism of the 1890s and muckraking in the early 1900s, that the American journalism industry began to really focus on facts.
And if things went wrong, no matter where the error had come from, the checker was on the line.
Weekly errors reports detailed the mistakes made, excoriating the (lower-paid) woman doing the checking rather than the male writer on the piece.
She started as a science and medicine researcher in 1934, later becoming chief of research and the third woman to be on the masthead as a “senior editor.” The women’s jobs were twofold.
In the first part of the week they would do background research, finding interesting details and supporting material for articles that someone else would write.