July 6, 2016

To think that making an error is something we alone cause or control is to ignore the larger systems and factors at play. Our brains play an undeniable role in the mistakes we make. It’s true we can be tired, rushed or sloppy.

But there are other elements at work, too. Here are some other factors that cause errors and how you can be on guard against these kinds of mistakes.

Tools and Technology

The products, tools and technologies we use every day to produce the news can hurt us just as much as they help us. Near the top of the list is the spell-checker. The good people who created it had the admirable goal of catching typos and reducing spelling mistakes. However, it is an imperfect tool. A spell-checker can tell you if a word is spelled correctly, but it can’t tell you if that word has any business being in the sentence in the first place.

We use many other tools: desktop publishing software, cameras, editing software, etc. Over-reliance on the very tools that help us become better journalists can actually cause us to make mistakes. Understanding this paradox can help us use these tools with greater awareness of both their benefits and their limitations.


Information follows a particular path on its way to becoming news. It can pass through many hands and be touched by several tools. Each step along the path is intended to improve its quality. The workflow in a newsroom plays a major role in helping to improve — or degrade — quality.

Avoiding errors during the workflow requires awareness and a willingness to examine and change a potentially flawed process if too many introduced errors are creeping into a media organization’s reporting.

Taken from Getting It Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age, a self-directed course by Craig Silverman at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
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