Executive Editor Tom Warhover has designated this week “Standown for Accuracy Week,” a time to think (even more than we usually do) about the habits and practices of accuracy. You know by now that accuracy checking is only part of what reporters have to do to make sure everything in a story is correct. We also “CQ” every proper noun (names of people, organizations and places, for example) in our stories.
My observation is that assumption — that we’ve got something right — is the root of many errors. We assume we’ve heard the person right over the phone as he or she is spelling his/her name. Or that a city name is spelled a certain way (though we didn’t actually look it up to check).
In a more general sense, assmuming we understand a process or idea when we don’t produces a huge number of errors in news stories. In research on errors, this is what sources say: that the error was the result of the reporter not asking enough questions. That’s related to what Jacqui B. said during the first interviewing lecture, remember? We don’t have to know everything; we just have to find out.
So don’t weigh yourself down with the burden of thinking you need to know everything. Instead, develop the habits and practices of checking everything, including yourself. What do I know? What am I just guessing here? What am I assuming?
Readers deserve that diligence, and we need it to improve the credibility of news-gathering organizations. There are many places readers can wander in the roiling sea of information and news, and we want readers to choose us over and over. So getting it right matters more than ever.
What habits have you developed to make sure you’ve got everything right in your stories?