Born out of a need to transform its business due to the government and COVID-19, Standard Media Group decided 2020 was the time to fast track its plan to make its newsroom entirely digital-first.
In 2019, the Kenyan government, who at the time was the company’s biggest advertiser, decided to cut its spend and instead publish its own insert to be included in newspapers, said Carole Kimutai, managing editor of digital at Standard.
Shortly after that, ads for betting companies were discontinued. Couple those two big blows with a global pandemic, and it was time to innovate and create.
Standard Media Group started offering premium content to registered users to grow loyal readers. But one of the biggest ways the company added value to audiences was by offering ways to help users decipher what was fake news and what was real since social media became a massive breeding ground for misinformation.
“For Kenya, we are approaching the election season and we are seeing quite a bit of that playing out,“ Kimutai said. “That is not new for us. It’s been happening and we expect it to get worse as we get into the 2022 election in August.”
A fact-checking mission
Fact-checking wasn’t a new concept at Standard. It created its first fact-checking desk in 2018 for its digital department. The objective was to check claims made by people, groups, and institutions that have great influence over audiences.
“What we say is we don’t fact-check people, we fact-check what they say,” Kimutai said. “We publish our fact checks online. And some of them go to the newspaper. We also have a radio station that has a weekly fact-checking session and we bring in experts and we look at issues in the public domain and we fact check them.”
The company’s push to fact-check stepped up a notch in March of 2020 when it created a Check Point Desk that served the entire newsroom: TV, radio, digital, social media, and print.
The role of the desk is to make sure both the breaking information coming into the newsroom and the more in-depth content are credible.
“It has increased news literacy in Kenya,” Kimutai said. “Last year we were able to win several awards around our fact-checks and we have been instrumental in countering the spread of fake news.”
The Check Point Desk has given Standard an editorial edge in Kenya by being able to provide in-depth premium content, Kimutai said. The company is also working directly with Facebook to ensure information that goes out is verified.
At Standard, the fact check desk is made up of investigative journalists, data scientists, and fact checkers.
“We do explainers about what is fake and what is not,” Kimutai said. “Our inbox is full of stories that audiences want us to fact check: photos, videos, even speeches that audiences feel we need to fact check and clarify.”
Using graphics as guides
This helps build that credibility because Standard has 1 million people who registered for this content. Due to plentiful misinformation, Standard did a lot of COVID-19 fact checks last year, she said. And sometimes people just need news or topics explained in a way that is easier to understand. They call these explainers.
“These infographics have become very popular and we share these infographics on our social media pages. Engagement is really really high,” Kimutai said. “This is content that we share for free. We don’t charge for this, but it’s one of the things we use to ensure our content is credible.”
Fact-checkers found lot of fake news is generated on apps like WhatsApp, which is why it spreads so widely. The infographics help combat this.
“There was a politician, Governor Anne Waiguru, who claimed there are 9 million voters in Mount Kenya, so we got one of our political scientists to actually fact-check that,” Kimutai said. “We went into the data of voting patterns. We looked at how many people voted in the last two elections and voter turnout and were able to do an explainer on whether what the governor said was true.”
A big lesson Standard learned was how important it is to train all its journalists to be on the lookout for fake news, Kimutai said. The technology evolves so fast that all members of the newsroom need to look out for fake social media accounts, especially around election times.
“This is quite an important thing for us and it’s a continuous thing and it's one of the skills newsrooms have to pick up.”