Accuracy Tips


Bullying is not on the rise and it does not lead to suicide

Every other month or so a story about a child bullied until he or she commits suicide rises into our national consciousness.

This month it’s Rebecca Sedwick from Lakeland, Fla.

Before that it was Gabrielle Molina of Queens. And before that it Asher Brown.

All suicides are tragic and complicated. And teen suicides are particularly devastating because as adults we recognize all that lost potential.

Yet, in perpetuating these stories, which are often little more than emotional linkbait, journalists are complicit in a gross oversimplification of a complicated phenomenon. In short, we’re getting the facts wrong.

The common narrative goes like this: Mean kids, usually the most popular and powerful, single out and relentlessly bully a socially weaker classmate in a systemic and calculated way, which then drives the victim into a darkness where he or she sees no alternative other than committing suicide. Read more


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. Read more


Our brains resist correction, but there are ways to break through

It’s taken a couple of months, but the New America Foundation is in the process of releasing interesting and useful research papers created for a December fact-checking event hosted by the organization.

I wrote about that gathering, and one that preceded it at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in November. But there was a lot I couldn’t share from the December event, because it was held under Chatham House Rule, and the papers prepared for the gathering were not yet public. Now at least two of those papers are available for free.

Earlier this week, I linked to a fascinating paper that lays out the origins and current state of political fact checking. Now the paper I was most looking forward to has been released [PDF]. Read more


How The New York Times’ corrections tracker improves accuracy

How do you handle a reporter who’s making more mistakes than usual?

The New York Times recently confronted this issue with a regular freelancer whose corrections total was spiking.

Greg Brock, the Times senior editor who oversees corrections, was able to detect and ultimately address the issue because the paper is one of a handful of media organizations that track errors and corrections in an internal database.

The details of this mini case study was contained in a new column about errors and corrections from Times public editor Arthur Brisbane. His piece details how the paper handles mistakes and how it works to prevent them. Brisbane also offers a nice precis by Scott Maier, the top newspaper accuracy researcher working today. (Brisbane quotes me in the column, too. Read more

Audit Commission

New campaign offers tips to help journalists get their numbers straight

Thanks to a campaign from the U.K.’s Royal Statistical Society, journalists now have access to a great collection of tips to help them report numbers accurately.

Former journalist David Walker is the director of Getstats, the Society’s campaign to improve statistical literacy, and he has set part of his sights on newsrooms.

David Walker

The organization recently released 12 “rules of thumb for journalists” to help them do a better job handling numbers. The tips for “numbers hygiene” include “sniff around” and ask, “out of how many?” also has a related story that offers additional tips to help journalists avoid five common pitfalls related to numbers.

In keeping with the spirit of numeracy, I wrote a previous column that shared advice from Sarah Cohen, author of the book, “Numbers in the Newsroom: Using Math and Statistics in News.”

I also followed up with Walker to learn more about the motivation behind Getstats and to tease out a few more tips from him. Read more


5 tips for getting photo IDs right

Mistaken identifications are among the most common photo errors I see corrected by the media. People in photos have either been mislabeled internally or by a photo or wire service, or someone hasn’t checked the image to verify it’s showing who they think it does.

A case in point: this Monday correction in The Independent

In our print edition of Friday 3 February we ran a photograph of an actor named David Bradley under the heading “stars who have slipped.” We very much regret that we used a photograph of the wrong David Bradley and that the David Bradley we pictured is still enjoying a highly successful career, including playing Argus Filch, the caretaker in the Harry Potter films.

This is a bit tricky, as the photo was in fact of an actor named David Bradley — it was just the wrong David Bradley. Read more


Students offer new rules for accurate journalism

In a column last year for Columbia Journalism Review I tried to put some journalism cliches to good use by offering a series of tips and rules to help journalists create accurate work. The idea was to boil accuracy advice down to the essentials, and I ended up with a list of eight rules. Here are three of them:

The initial, mistaken information will be retweeted more than any subsequent correction. I’ve started calling this the Law of Incorrect Tweets. The point is to emphasize that a piece of misinformation is often far more appealing and interesting than the subsequent correction. People are therefore more inclined to retweet or like a false news report than to pay attention to any subsequent correction. Be careful with the information that gets pushed out, and be diligent about repeatedly offering a correction.

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


Three tips for avoiding errors when dealing with archival content

Archives can be dangerous territory for journalists. Searching in databases or a newspaper’s morgue can provide essential background and perspective for current coverage. But it can also lead to errors and other offenses.

This December correction from the Kalgoorlie Miner of Western Australia highlights some of the many challenges journalists and others face when relying on archival content:

IN TUESDAY’S Goldfields History page, we wrote about a shooting incident 50 years ago in which two men died in Hoover Street, Leonora.

The original news article published the names of the two men, one 16 years old and the other 22, which at the time was the style of the newspaper.

The article also mentioned the name of a 14-year-old girl who was shot in the incident.

Read more