There’s an old adage in journalism: “If your mother says she loves you check it out.”

That’s a rule all too easy to forget — or ignore — in today’s Internet environment. Certainly Manti Te’o says he regrets not checking out Lennay Kekua more carefully.

But the reporters who swallowed the heartwarming storyline without question should be re-visiting the journalistic standards that have been in place — for good reason — since well before libraries full of information were just a mouse click away.

I was thinking how glad I was not to be the Sports Illustrated writer who is now being skewered by his media brethren. This Slate column is just one example; there are many more making their way through cyberspace.

In reality, this could have happened to any of us. Pete Thamel, the Sports Illustrated reporter who is most associated with the Manti Te’o story, explains in detail here what he knew, what he didn’t know and what, in hindsight, he should have asked.

But it shouldn’t happen to any of us. So it occurred to me this a good time to discuss our own reporting practices here at Civil Beat and to remind the staff how important it is to not take things for granted. People are usually who they say they are, but sometimes not. Facts are things to be corroborated. Assertions need to be tested.

I started in journalism when we still used typewriters. The Internet wouldn’t be available as a reporting tool for many years, so we called people on the phone, went to their offices, waited outside meetings for them to come out. The library housed encyclopedias and the guide to periodicals where we checked out current magazine articles for background on issues and people. We talked to folks face-to-face so we built relationships along with trust — us in them and them in us.

Information moves through a community at high speed these days. A successful news operation is often the one that gets the story online first. That’s not so different in theory from the old days — reporters rushing to pay phones to call their desks with breaking scoops. “Hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite!”

But the Internet has allowed us to take the easy way. It’s not always the best way.

We don’t even have to leave our desks. We don’t have to look people in the eye when we ask them uncomfortable questions. Who has time for coffee or lunch or the old-school drinks in a dim bar with a source?

Civil Beat has been built around public policy journalism which by nature requires a deeper understanding and better explanation of issues and events. We are known for our Fact Checks. We post original source documents and we link to studies and reports and other information sources. We push people we interview for supporting documents and records, not because we don’t trust them, but because our readers expect to be able to read the material for themselves and make sure we got it straight.

But interaction between humans is also critical. A few months ago I asked our reporters to avoid interviewing people by email when at all possible. At least get them on the phone, I said. Better would be to sit down with them.

This has not been as easy as you might think. We have gotten pushback from some public officials and business execs who have grown comfortable with the convenience — and control — of email. A simple conversation is not how they do things anymore.

There are good reasons to talk to a news source by phone or in person. With email, you can’t always ask follow up questions if you don’t understand something. You can’t gauge the tone of someone’s voice. Frankly, as the Manti Te’o affair has shown, you can’t even be sure that the someone on the other end of the email or text or Facebook or Twitter is the person you think they are.

So don’t be surprised or put off if Civil Beat reporters want to drop by your office or buy you a cup of coffee. We are going the extra mile to make sure we have the facts straight, the context correct. The news is too important to shortchange with a simple Google search.

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