Young Journalists Start Albania’s First Fact-Checking News Platform

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Merxhan Daci, left, and Anxela Ruci at the Faktoje office.
Merxhan Daci, left, and Anxela Ruci at the Faktoje office.
Hung Vo, USAID
Investigative reporters promote institutional transparency, citizen trust
“At Faktoje, I feel that I’m performing quality work. After extensive research, I produce a detailed article, and I feel proud to put my name on it.”

July 2018 — Anxhela Ruci, 23, graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Tirana in 2017. Journalism is a male-dominated field in Albania, but Ruci wanted to challenge herself to enter this profession by studying to become a journalist. Upon graduating, however, she initially struggled to apply the education and training she received to the workplace.

Ruci’s first job was with one of Albania’s many news reporting websites, where the routine was contrary to what she understood to be ethical journalism. Albania’s internet news portals compete to publish the most number of stories, paying little attention to quality and accuracy. Her job was to duplicate and plagiarize news, rather than to research and produce original content.

“When I worked in online media, my job was just copying and pasting published stories,” says Ruci. “I had to post news every 10-12 minutes. Every day, I would publish more than 40 news pieces on the website. I published news that I was not proud of, news that I did not want to read, and news that I never want to write again.”

2018 report on media practices published by IREX concluded that “very few outlets in Albania maintain a high standard of professional reporting, and most exhibit serious shortcomings.” Poor journalism practices have been worsened by resource constraints, staff shortages, demanding timelines and stiff competition from the growing number of online news outlets.

To counter this trend and improve news reporting standards, in February, USAID established the country’s first fact-checking service, Faktoje, which means “evidence” in Albanian. Faktoje is a critical element of USAID’s Justice for All project reforms in Albania, and is helping improve government transparency and accountability through responsible journalism.

Ruci is one of Faktoje’s five journalists investigating dozens of statements delivered by public figures for validity. With USAID support, Faktoje journalists have also received specialized training on digital journalism techniques.

Stories ranging from pledges made by Albanian Government officials to water prices in Tirana are assessed for their accuracy on a “Faktometer” as being true, untrue, partly true or unverifiable. Every day, the Faktoje team meets and selects stories to investigate based on available evidence and what they believe the public wants to learn.

Merxhan Daci, Ruci’s colleague and former university classmate, began working at Faktoje when it first opened. For Daci, tracking reliable data has proven to be the most difficult part of his new job.

“Finding data in Albania is challenging. For example, institutions do not respect our requests to gain certain information using the freedom of information law, even when they are mandated to respond to journalists within 10 working days of receiving the request,” says Daci, who feels that the delayed release of information is deliberate.

Despite the frustrations Faktoje journalists face, the site has published nearly 90 stories since starting in February. “Faktoje just published an article investigating the minister of tourism’s claim that Albania experienced a growth of 1 million tourists between 2016 and 2017,” says Ruci. “However, our research found that this figure is only 600,000.”

Faktoje has already become a trusted news source in under six months. Now, many of Ruci’s friends want to work for Faktoje and have the same opportunity to practice good journalism. The Faktoje team is working to grow its impact through a dedicated television program in the near future.

Ruci feels she is now able to apply her journalistic training to her career. “At Faktoje, I feel that I’m performing quality work. After extensive research, I produce a detailed article, and I feel proud to put my name on it.”

In March 2016, USAID began its five-year Justice for All project, which is designed to strengthen the effectiveness and transparency of Albania’s justice sector. USAID works with civil society and investigative journalists to respond to citizen demands for fair and equal application of the law. Through responsible journalism, Faktoje will help increase citizens’ trust in the judiciary and the Government of Albania more broadly.

The Justice for All project is also working with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network to support court and crime reporting and investigative news. Over the last year, USAID has helped the network publish more than 250 articles on Albania, contributing to greater reporting standards on corruption, transparency and accountability.


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