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The Inextricable Role of Gender in the History of Fact-Checking

TIME: “In 1965, as he neared completion on the first part of a corporate history of Time Inc., the writer Robert Elson showed a draft of his work to Patty Divver, who had started as a researcher at TIME in the early 1930s. She had a fairly major complaint: “I have one thing to say about that — and this as been my war with Time Incorporated — or was my war at Time Incorporated for 25 years. There is absolutely no awareness in the whole damned volume that women had anything to do with Time Incorporated!” In fact, as Divver knew well, women had a lot to do with the company’s history. Notably, in the publication’s first decades, as TIME was creating the concept of the modern magazine fact-checker, women were almost exclusively responsible for that crucial work. At a moment when the fight against false information is a matter of global importance — so much so that the work now has its own annual observance, International Fact-Checking Day, marked on April 2 — it’s clearer than ever that the work fact-checkers do matters greatly.

Most of the women who worked at TIME in its early days held the job of “researcher,” a role that was inescapably entwined with gender. All of TIME’s researchers were women until 1973. On the one hand, the job offered opportunity, responsibility and a path to a career at a time when women were becoming a larger proportion of the gainfully employed. Researchers would work with the (usually male) writers to gather the necessary research material for an article. After it was written and edited, they would then confirm that every fact was correct as it was written. Researchers had unusual power in some ways; they were encouraged to talk back and to take an active part in reporting stories, though “women were completely and utterly unknown in U.S. industry,” as Divver later recalled….” [h/t Barclay Walsh – The Fact-Checking/Researcher Rock Star]

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