44 Tips for Greater Accuracy
How to avoid mechanical/objective errors in your newspaper
- Always do the math.
Always check a map
when describing a site, route, etc.
- Don't rely on another person's figures.
- Remember that "officials" and "experts"
may be as bad at math as journalists.
- Don't be too busy or proud to consult a math text
or math guide--and have one available.
Always find the
first reference to a person in copy.
- Even when you think you know the area.
- Especially when you don't know the area.
- If you have the opportunity, even drive out there.
- Develop a checklist of trouble locations:
- Seabreeze Park? Sea Breeze?
- Athens? City, town, or county?
show any error you see to a supervisor.
- Make sure you have first name and title.
- Double-check to make sure first reference hasn't been
omitted, rearranged or deleted in trimming copy.
a question that has been raised:
- Especially headline errors.
- It may save you and your paper embarrassment.
- Quick corrective action also may be important in defense
against a lawsuit.
- Don't assume somebody else has already caught it.
Always take a fresh
look any time a question is raised.
- By another reader, in or out of the newsroom.
- By that small, sometimes indistinct voice in the back
of your head. Listen to your
Always follow the
Rule of Fair Comment.
- Even if the wording is correct, the question gives
you a glimpse of at least one other reader's reaction
to your story. It's a rare opportunity. Take it.
or analyze to justify a result.
Always make copy
clear, unambiguous at a glance.
- A one-sided or one-source story is simply not a complete
story and can never be an accurate one.
- The other side may provide important information that
makes the story accurate.
- You can't know it all, so talk to the people who do
know more than you.
Always follow the
Rule of CQ, which states:
- Any explanation or discussion of copy that includes
- "This must mean" or
- "I think he means" or
- "I think she means" or
- "I took it to mean"
- Other danger phrases:
- "What else could it be?"
- "Everybody knows that."
Always be sure to
see each character in type--spaces, too.
- Unusual spellings, tricky constructions, etc. need
a "(CQ)" to indicate they've been double-checked.
Never trust a
CQ in copy!
We have to see the forest and the trees, so Always:
- Body type
Always use all of
the tools available to you:
- Read (at least) once for content and effect.
- Read (at least) once for the mechanical errors:
Never make it someone
else's job to make the story perfect..
- Dictionary, stylebook, spell-checker, reference books,
- Don't be too busy or too proud to check a fact.
Always be nice,
but never assume that...
- Nobody should care more about your work than you do.
Always beware of
- The last person on a story did his or her job right...
- Or that the next one will. So do it right, now.
- Remember the funnel effect. A large pool of stories
sits atop a narrow editing path ending at the slot.
The pressure of other stories as the copy goes through
the funnel means your story is being read faster and
faster, and there's less chance to fix it as the set
Always read the
- "The biggest," "the best," "the
smallest," "the worst," etc. ...
- ...often ain't.
- Check it out.
But: Never trust
anything in the clips.
- They can tip you off to sources, assumptions, information
that has been reported as fact.
- They can guide you to possible inconsistencies,
contradictions, etc. with your information.
all facts in photo captions.
- How do you know the first story was correct?
- Do you know for sure corrections caught up with
the library clip or archive copy?
- Has something changed since that story was written?
Always look at the
photo when writing a cutline or editing one.
Never trust a PR
person's word on spellings, other facts.
that the wilder the error seems ...
Never assume that
of two spellings for the same name:
- Names, addresses may be wrong but they could be
more accurate than the story, too. At least you can
- Be sensitive to what the photographer says is going
on, and when it occurred, not just what appears to
be happening in the photo.
Always show the
last person to handle the copy ...
- The first spelling is the correct one.
- The most frequent spelling is the correct one.
- Either spelling is the correct one.
Always get another
pair of eyes to look at copy ...
- Any substantive changes you propose, including:
- Story organization.
Always look for
an opportunity to discuss the headline ...
- If you've set it.
- Especially if you altered the copy before you set
Always read your
own newspaper every day.
- With the reporter or assigning editor.
- With a colleague.
- Especially if the story is:
Always dial any
phone number you intend to publish
- Check what's happened to your stories.
- Changes made? Ask why. You may learn something.
- Critical reading can enhance your awareness of style.
- It's also a good way to prevent the same story from
getting into the paper more than once.
after you've typed it into the story.
Always analyze any
correction you see yours or another's. Ask:
Always give any
sensitive, unusual or tricky material ...
Always go back and
read the full sentence if you've changed a word or two
in copy ...
- How did the error occur?
- How could it have been avoided?
- What would I do next time?
- You may learn something.
- The exercise will be a good refresher.
Always follow the
Rule of the Best Source, remembering:
- Watch for subject-verb agreement, missing info,
In doubt? Always
call the reporter, wire service, or even the source.
- The best source on one point isn't necessarily the
best for all purposes and certainly not for the opposing
- Being the best source doesn't mean not having a
point of view, an ideology or an ax to grind. Just
be sure you know what it is. Tell the reader, too.
Always tap colleagues'
expertise if you don't know the subject.
- We're after the truth, not just a plausible narrative.
- You'd be amazed how often sloppy wire copy goes
- If AP transmits it, it's AP's error. If you publish
it, it's yours.
- Interrupted sleep beats an interrupted career any
day (or night).
- Beat expertise:
- Anne covers politics.
- Fred covers City Hall.
Always make sure
that the shorter word you use in a head ...
- Background expertise:
- Ardith knows kayaking.
- Frank knows horses, backpacking.
- Christine knows martial arts.
- Mark knows wines.
- Bob knows birds.
Always ask: "Is
there anything else I should know?"
- Means exactly the same thing as the word that won't
Always be careful
how you ask questions when checking a fact.
- There's nothing worse than having a source let you
blunder into an error because ...
"Well, you didn't ask."
Never commit to
print anything that you don't understand.
- Leading questions may lead you into trouble.
- Ask open questions that ensure complete, open answers.
Always match names,
numbers in a headline with those in its story.
- If you don't know, what are the chances readers
- In pinning down your own understanding, you may:
- Learn something.
- Find a better way to say it.
- Find a more accurate way to say it.
Never correct an
error until you're sure you made one.
- Also, cross-check facts in:
- Agate Lists.
Errors can come in clusters ...
- Retrace your steps.
- Don't take someone else's word that copy is wrong;
check it out.
- This will help you discover why the error was made.
- Finding one may not find them all. There may be
"Fee's Other, Similar Theorem"
- "The most severe error in any one passage of a story
will divert attention from the less severe errors
in the same passage. The bigger the error, the more
likely it will be the only one caught at that reading.
Subsequent readings will tend to continue to eliminate
only successive next-most-glaring errors."
- "The more we chortle at one boneheaded error or
hilarious screw-up in copy (always someone else's
goof), the more likely it is we'll let another go
In other words: Have fun, but don't lose focus.