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Fact-checking

Fact checking project – checking the facts of five articles by Dennis Rijnvis for Nu.nl

In our fact-check report we investigated the Dutch news website Nu.nl. Nu.nl is part of media group Sanoma that distributes media in several European countries. Sanoma describes Nu.nl as followed: “Nu.nl is thé digital news source of The Netherlands. Fast, trustworthy and clear: 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Nu.nl provides the latest news first in an uncoloured, innovative and clear way. Hereby, the visitors are key and advertisers are offered a big and high-quality platform.” However, as it is mentioned in the disclaimer on Nu.nl, they do not guarantee that everything on their website is correct and they do not take responsibility for the consequences of their mistakes. In this fact-checking report we investigated how accurate the stories on Nu.nl are.

In this report we have fact-checked five articles of Nu.nl that were all written by journalist Dennis Rijnvis. Dennis Rijnvis is a freelance journalist who has been working and has worked for several Dutch news websites and newspapers. His interest in articles on scientific research and his involvement in several media is what caught our attention. However, we found out that his articles for Nu.nl were the only ones that were suitable for this project and that were recent enough to be properly fact-checked. By checking his articles for Nu.nl we want to investigate if Dennis Rijnvis got his facts right, and what his methods are to create an (in)accurate story. We have also presented him our findings, and asked him for a reaction on our fact check report.

After thoroughly reading the five articles and underlining and/or colouring all the facts, we compared the information in the articles by Rijnvis to information in the original source. Regarding our main findings, we can conclude that most facts were accurate. The journalist mostly succeeded in properly translating and applying these to the news article on Nu.nl. Some of the word choices Rijnvis made were not exactly accurate. For example, Rijnvis used the word ‘entitlement’ instead of ‘narcissism’ and ‘cerebral cortex’ instead of ‘posterior cingulated/precuneus’. He also sometimes wrote more general terms whereas in the original source they mentioned specific terms and he sometimes wrote more specific terms whereas in the original source they were speaking in general terms. An example of this is the use of negative thoughts instead of repetitive negative thoughts and the use of compulsive disorders instead of internalized disorders. Furthermore, in all articles Rijnvis also left out some details about the researches. He, for example, did not mention the exact amount of participants in a study, all the topics of a questionnaire and what type of autism the participants in the study had. He also added some information that was not in the original source. For example, Rijnvis mentioned that in an article mice almost immediately restored their normal scratching behaviour, but the researchers do not mention anything about it happening almost immediately. He also mentioned in the same article that people could better not scratch when they feel an itch, but researchers mentioned that the results are applicable for mice but they do not know yet if it is applicable to humans as well, although they do suspect it is very likely. In another article, Rijnvis wrote about narcissism despite the fact that this was only mentioned in the research to explain that the results of the study are not applicable for narcissistic people. Rijnvis does seem to be aware of that as well, since he later in his article emphasized that the research is about narcissistic states and not about narcissistic traits. Furthermore, Rijnvis also makes some mistakes with the quotes he used. However, all word choices and formulation choices can probably be explained by Rijnvis’ attempt to popularize the studies. It is important to keep in mind that Rijnvis cannot use ‘scientific jargon’ in the Nu.nl website since the website is supposed to be accessible for a broad audience with different kinds of backgrounds. Rijnvis probably made all these choices to make his stories more comprehensible and attractive.

The results of the fact-check process were discussed in an interview with Dennis Rijnvis. The main questions in this interview were what sources he uses and on what he bases his stories. Rijnvis stated that he often starts by looking at (foreign) science websites. He searches for news that stands out and that would interest the readers of Nu.nl. Because he wants the topics to be understandable and relevant for every reader, he focusses on information related to daily life, animals, etcetera. After reading the news article, Rijnvis searches for the original research publication to find out what exactly was the focus of the research and looks online for interviews with the researchers. According to Rijnvis, Nu.nl has such a high time and work pressure that it is difficult for him to contact the researchers himself. When Rijnvis was asked the question whether or not he reads every research paper he discusses, his answer was “no”. He merely reads the abstract and if he does not understand that completely, he reads the methodology as well. In the interview Rijnvis also stated that he tries to look at things from the reader’s perspective. He tries to make the text more relevant and easier to understand for his readers. This is in line with our thoughts on why he chose certain words or why he chose to formulate a sentence a certain way. Rijnvis further stated that he also interprets the research and tries to determine whether it is reliable. When a study for example does not have enough participants to be reliable, he adds a sentence to place the study into perspective for his readers. Rijnvis says that he has the final responsibility for the content of his articles and that the content of the articles should be correct before they are published, and that this is up to him. Besides writing for Nu.nl, Rijnvis currently also writes for Quest and de Volkskrant. He stated that his method of writing an article is different for these media. For these media he always interviews the researchers about a study or topic he writes about. The second difference is that he thinks of these articles as more of “his own story” instead just a report about research. Rijnvis said that he reads more about the topic, conducts interviews and always sends his story to the researchers to let them check if there are any factual errors.

All in all, after checking all the facts and reviewing all the mistakes, we can state that we are satisfied with Rijnvis’ work as a journalist and Nu.nl as a medium. His articles are mostly factually correct. Sometimes he used a different choice of words or he left out some details, but as we thought and as he explained himself as well, those choices are made to make the stories more accessible and more comprehensible. Furthermore, those mistakes are not large mistakes that change the outline of the stories. The most important findings of the researches are correctly displayed.

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