Trust, which is gained in inches and lost in miles, is central to everything we do. A news organization lives by its reputation for providing accurate, timely, contextual information. As an editor, you are a temporary caretaker of our reputation. You should pass it on in better condition than you received it.
Studies show that even simple errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation erode a news organization’s credibility because readers think if journalists cannot get little things right, they cannot be trusted to get big things right. Major errors like getting facts wrong cause damage that may take semesters to repair.
So your top priority – and your obligation to past and future staffs – is to assure the accuracy of every fact we publish. In addition, producing work free of grammar or style errors should be a high priority. The Daily, like most news organizations, already has a number of systems in place to protect against errors. Sending stories from a desk editor to a copy editor is one such system. Proofing designed pages is another. Here are other tools to use to improve accuracy.
CLIMATE: Editors must create a climate in which accuracy is paramount. Challenge the accuracy of every fact before publication. Celebrate catches that save us from embarrassment. Own up to our audience when errors get through by publishing prompt, clear and accurate corrections. Most importantly, learn from how errors occur and what can be done to prevent them in the future.
WHERE TO START: Accuracy begins with those crafting our coverage. Editors must train them to check every fact before turning in stories, and guarantee that they do. Use pre-semester training to establish standards and make clear how staffers will be held accountable. Photographers and videographers are equally responsible for fact-checking names and places in their work. Cutlines for archived images also must be checked carefully – don’t trust that a prior staffer got it right, or the information remains correct.
CORRECTIONS: Readers must be easily able to let us know when we have erred. Our corrections policy is prominently located in our homepage menu and should run in each print edition. When errors occur, The Daily must set the record straight as quickly as possible. In all cases, the editor-in-chief decides when an error has occurred and how the correction will be worded. Here are steps to investigate a potential correction:
- Forward information on any alleged error to the editor-in-chief.
- An editor should review the original piece, contact the reader/source and take notes. Don’t be defensive or make promises beyond saying you will investigate the matter.
- Contact the creator of the work. Ask to see their notes or listen to their interview if necessary. If the error was made elsewhere, determine which editors were involved and talk with them.
- Let the source/reader know the outcome of your investigation.
If an error occurred, how you word the correction is vital. Transparency is the goal. Here’s a formula: Start with when/where the error occurred. Next, summarize the error without repeating it. Last, give the correct information. In a Page One story on Tuesday about COVID-19, Dr. Dale Bratzler’s last name was misspelled.