Most commonly known for its rankings (e.g. Fortune 500 is the annual ranking of the largest corporations by revenue in the United States), Fortune is one of the most influential business magazine in circulation (Ipsos Affluent Survey, 2016). Published and owned by Time Inc., Fortune can be found both in print and digital media. It has a worldwide circulation of 1.2 million and a digital traffic of 17.8 million UVs.
Fortune Media Kit, 2017. (For more facts and figure about Fortune see the link)
Fortune has gained its reputation as an influential business magazine for more than 85 years. In 2014, due to major changes in the holding, Fortune launched a new independent digital platform to share their long journalistic tradition online (Barnett & Serwer, 2014). Their aim of becoming a “fast-paced news business site” and to be a competitive news outlet in today’s digital age, has led them to increasingly produce more and more material to stay up to date. For these reasons, we believe that in order to keep up with the demand, Fortune may be inclined to use news from other sources, and may neglect to check the facts from every source they use. With the intention of getting a complete account on the veracity and consistency of Fortune’s reporting, three articles were put under the spotlight to be fact-checked.
Old Fortune homepage as part of CNNMoney vs New independent Fortune homepage. (for more information on the transition process see the link)
All three (1, 2, 3) articles were thoroughly checked and were fully accounted for. Besides a couple of “mishaps”, all facts checked out to be true whether in primary or secondary sources. Numbers, dates, titles, names, and reports were properly cited to provide complete quality pieces. Nevertheless, the fact-checking process leads to some interesting conclusions on the journalistic practices of Fortune when it comes to the use of sources.
Two of the three articles of this report were credited to Reuters and as such, they were written under their journalists Trust Principles protocol. Unfortunately, the original writers of the articles did not answer to our inquiries which might have given us more insight into the writing process they follow. Fortune, like most news outlets, acquires pieces from news agencies like Reuters and reproduces articles without any editorial touches. Although both articles were almost flawless in the delivery of their facts, no work was done by Fortune to corroborate this and took what Reuters reported at face value. This seems to be a common practice for Fortune and other mediums who have come to depend on paid news agencies to produce sufficient content (Burger & Hamers-Regimbal, 2009).
In the third article, we saw a different trend but with a similar modus operandus. The article was written by a freelance writer for Fortune and although all the facts that were accounted for, there was no real journalistic work done by the writer. He simply reproduced the content of a press release and main findings of a report. When contacted about his fact checking process, he admitted skipping it since the source was “reputable” enough. Moreover, he explained that on any given morning he writes 3 to 4 articles and it is not uncommon for him not to fact check every piece. In this case, the reporter took the information provided by the company at face value and did little to noninvestigative work.
“I read several pages of the report in detail. I did not have time to read all of it, nor did I have time to read the associated databook, so I did not do my own research or interpretations of the data… With a less reputable organization, I would have perhaps been more skeptical and looked more closely at the raw data.” (David Meyer, Freelance journalist for Fortune)
Just like in the two other articles, this seems to be part of a bigger trend. Kovach and Rosenstiel (2011), refer to this trend as Journalism of Assertion. This type of journalism puts the highest value on immediacy/speed and volume without much editorial review. The demand for producing pieces and renewing content is so big, that in order to keep up, Fortune and its employees are willing to bypass a vital process in journalistic work: FACT-CHECKING. Moreover, a common justification given by journalists when questioned about the accuracy of their work is credited to the reliability of sources: “institutional sources are reliable, sources have proven to be reliable, press agency material is assumed reliable“ (Burger and Hamers-Regimbal, 2009, p. 11). This was also seen in the analysis of the three articles as they take sources as reliable without questioning it further.
Whether it is by reproducing pieces from a paid source or by swiftly copying existing content, Fortune’s prestige as a credible outlet is at stake. Journalists not only have an obligation to the truth but they also have an obligation to their audience and if Fortune decides to sacrifice quality for quantity, how can they comply with such obligations? Although our analysis showed no major wrongdoings, three articles might not be sufficient to make significant conclusions. We believe that at the rate in which content is being uploaded and renewed, eventually mistakes will be done mostly by being overconfident of their sources. Regardless of these findings, it has become crucial for everyone to develop critical skills when reading news articles, and gain the ability to assess objective, credible and reliable journalism.
BE CRITICAL! Opinions are not facts. Don’t take anything for granted.
- Burger, P., & Hamers-Regimbal, M. (2009). Checking the facts: the contested core of journalists’ professional ethos.
- Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2011). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
- Barnett, M., & Serwer, A. (2014, June 1). Inside the all-new Fortune.com. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2014/06/01/inside-the-all-new-fortune-com/