Reynolds Center for Business Journalism creates accuracy checklist for journalists

Here’s a little exercise for you.

Who is this man?

Yes, of course, it’s Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero pilot who landed a troubled airplane on the Hudson River back in 2009.

This one’s a bit more difficult. Who is this man?

That’s Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot.

I use this exercise in workshops (and blog posts), in part because it shows how history has room for only one man from that small cockpit. It also offers an unlikely opportunity for me to preach the virtues of the checklist.

While Sully was busy at the controls, Skiles was engaged in something just as important: he was using an engine restart checklist to ensure they followed the proper procedures. He also used a different checklist to help them land on water.

I’ve been preaching the value of checklists for years now. My primer on checklists is here, and you can download my free accuracy checklist here. I’ve also created a collection of other people’s checklists, which you can view and download.

If you really want to understand the value and amazing power of checklists, you should read “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande, and his related New Yorker piece.

Simply put, the checklist is the best error prevention tool. That truth makes me all the more happy to report that the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism has created and released a free accuracy checklist. (Disclosure: I previously wrote a bi-weekly column for the center’s website, BusinessJournalism.org.)

Linda Austin, executive director of the Reynolds Center, got in touch with me a little while back to ask for guidance on how to create a checklist.

“I was inspired to put this together after reading your posts for BusinessJournalism.org about your accuracy checklist and the value of checklists in other fields,” Austin told me by email. “At first, I thought I’d design one just for business journalists, but it seemed like many of the same issues applied to business journalists, as much as anyone else. Then the data from the Pew Research Center came out that only one-quarter of Americans say news outlets get the facts right, and I thought I’ve got to get this thing done and make it useful for everyone.”

Austin offers some additional background in this post. One thing I like about her checklist is that it advises journalists to print out their articles when checking them. Taking stories from the screen to the printed page is a great way to ensure you examine them with fresh eyes. I also like the “fairness and context” section near the bottom.

You can share feedback with Austin at linda.austin@businessjournalism.org or @LindaAustin_.

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