Accuracy Reading

New study shows how newspaper inaccuracies transcend journalism cultures, national borders

In 1936, journalism professor and former magazine editor Mitchell Charnley published the first accuracy audit of American newspapers.

Charnley selected a sample of news articles, identified the sources quoted in them and mailed those sources a survey. The survey asked objective questions, such as whether their name was misspelled. It also asked subjective questions, such as whether their comments were taken out of context. The idea was that these sources had specific knowledge about the article, and could therefore provide valuable feedback on its accuracy.

More than 70 years since “Preliminary Notes on a Study of Newspaper Accuracy” came out, researchers have refined and expanded Charnley’s so-called accuracy check study.

The largest accuracy study of U.S. papers was published in 2007 and found one of the highest error rates on record — just over 59 percent of articles contained some type of error, according to sources. Read more

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Copy editors’ advice for the new year: ‘Slow down’

Two editors recently shared some useful tips to help journalists detect and prevent mistakes. A selection of their advice is below, and be sure to read both articles.

I’ll add to the offerings by pointing to my free downloadable accuracy checklist. Want to know why I’m such an advocate for checklists? You can read more in this post. It includes a basic overview, as well some slides and a liveblog of a workshop I gave at American University. I also recommend this post from Steve Buttry, which includes his own version of a checklist.

Copy Editing Tips

The first bit of accuracy advice comes from Pam Nelson, who writes the Grammar Guide blog for the American Copy Editors Society. She offered 10 tips for copy editors, though they can also be applied to writers. Read more