Gossip Cop just celebrated its ninth anniversary. In the past, we’ve used these milestones to pat ourselves on the back about the big stories we’ve broken or busted. We’ve showcased comments from celebrities who’ve voiced their appreciation for us correcting provably untrue stories about them. And while there are plenty of examples of that which we could point to from the past 12 months, it has also been a very transformative year for us.
Since our last anniversary, we have made a number of significant changes to Gossip Cop. Last July, we redesigned the entire site. It is now cleaner, sleeker, and far easier to read. It’s a better overall user experience both on desktop and mobile.
Editorially, we made sweeping changes. Even though it pushed a lot of traffic to the site, we decided to get rid of recaps of reality, competition, morning, and primetime shows. We’ve also been doing away with “celebrities react” types of articles and older news stories that are neither debunkings nor bear any relevance today. While the economics of doing those kind of posts was undoubtedly beneficial, ultimately we felt as a fact-checking site they were off-topic.
Also, although no one asked or suggested we do it, we embarked on a project to remove expletives in articles or overly suggestive stories. While not quite complete, hopefully in the next few months all the risque references will be removed. While other outlets seem to have built a large audience on posts about “wardrobe malfunctions,” for instance, ideally Gossip Cop will be a site that’s safe for everyone, be it students or even senior citizens.
Just last week, we removed the comments section, which many other outlets have done as well. It simply became a hot spot for people to use offensive language, name-call, and spread untruths. Often, what was discussed in the comments were unrelated to the article above and the rhetoric was unsavory. Since we were focused on implementing other changes, the removal of the comment section fell by the wayside, and our only regret is not getting rid of it sooner.
But the biggest change we’ve made since attending the International Fact-Checking Network’s Global Fact IV conference in Madrid in July 2017 was our approach to verifying and debunking claims. At that meeting, Gossip Cop learned a number of new tools to help us fact-check. For example, in the past year we busted numerous claims using image technology we were introduced to at Global Fact IV. We also forged new friendships with others dedicated to fact-checking and have consulted with them in the past year about how to make Gossip Cop even better.
When we first started nearly a decade ago, we told readers to give us three months, and if we were wrong about a story to feel free not to return, and there would be no hard feelings. But after seeing us correctly bust claim after claim, our following and visitor loyalty grew. And anyone who has read Gossip Cop over the past nine years knows our accuracy rate is exponentially higher than other celebrity sites.
In the past, we often debunked claims by relying on our impeccable sources who weren’t able to go on the record for a variety of reasons. That worked perfectly fine for several years until we became active in the fact-checking community and learned more and more about the importance of transparency. There’s even a group of political fact-checking sites that are signatories of what’s known as the Code of Principles. Maybe one day down the road Gossip Cop will commit to becoming a member, although it has no bearing on direct traffic and more significantly, it doesn’t technically make us any better as fact-checkers.
That said, having become friends with editors at a few political fact-checking sites that are signatories, we’ve come to realize why it’s so crucial, particularly in our niche, to have transparency. As a result, we now voluntarily follow their guidelines that include, among others, a commitment to transparent sourcing and methodology. Details of this is readily available on our About Us page.
None of these changes have been overnight or done without hiccups. Among them was switching our “Real or Rumor” meter to a “Fact or Fiction” meter to more accurately represent our determinations. And in April, we first introduced a Sources section beneath each and every article. Just three months later, we are very proud of our constantly improving Sources section, which clearly documents how we collected our information.
Political sites often debunk publicly made claims by elected officials, and there are government statistics that are readily available to fact-check their assertions. But in entertainment news, the claims being checked are often not uttered before the masses, nor is there open data to verify or bust. It’s an entirely different beast.
Notwithstanding, Gossip Cop has committed to transparency and to follow those same guidelines, even though the claims we correct are made in magazines and on websites and almost invariably are predicated on one single unnamed, unidentifiable and untraceable “source.” For Gossip Cop, that means we need to work doubly hard to prove to the public that a privately made claim by an anonymous “insider” is untrue. That has been our commitment over the past few months, and most especially in the last few weeks leading up to our ninth anniversary.
Not every story on Gossip Cop is a fact-check, but every article is a debunking, whether it’s a correction of a made-up claim, fake news, a flip-flop or simply an unsubstantiated report. For clarification, as noted on our About Us page, while we often correct untrue tales with a plethora of evidence and listed sources, many don’t reach the threshold of a “Fact Check” in which the average reader can read our post, look at our sources, and realize that with the same access they too could replicate our bust. Only for the stories that reach that level have we added a blue “Fact Check” label above the headline, so it’s clear we’ve transparently fact-checked the claim in the article’s title.
Additionally, every fact-check has transparent sourcing via links in the article and citations below the post, along with other back-up materials and information, as well as a clearly marked conclusion at the end of the piece, explaining how we arrived at our determination and the rating we ascribed to it on our meter. For those stories only, we currently add on the bottom of articles the ShareTheFacts widget, which includes Schema.org’s ClaimReview markup and presents a nice visual of what the claim is we fact-checked, who made it, and what we’ve rated it. (NOTE: The widget still has the old “Real or Rumor” meter, but we’re working on having that corrected.)
Over the past year, we’ve made a few errors in articles, how we’ve marked up stories and even how we’ve dealt with others. We have corrected those mistakes and dedicated ourselves to being better all around. Since returning from this year’s International Fact-Checking Network’s Global V conference in Rome in late June, we have ramped our our fact-checking efforts.
While certain tabloids and websites have capitalized on manufacturing bogus reports, as we begin our journey towards our 10th anniversary, Gossip Cop remains steadfast in its mission of separating fact from fiction. We were darn good before, and now we’re even better, and with full transparency. Gossip Cop would also like to take this opportunity to challenge other entertainment sites to stop hiding behind unnamed and, at times, seemingly made-up sources and become transparent as well. In the meantime, we thank each and every one of you who have supported us over the years as we’ve reaffirmed and fine-tuned our commitment to fact-checking.
Gossip Cop has determined this story is accurate to the best of our ability.