Fact Checking is Key to a Clear Story

“Just the facts, ma’am,” Police Sergeant Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb, said on the television show Dragnet.

When I was younger than I am today, I remember the time when I got confused.

After sitting in on a small government meeting, I reported that the board would remove trees. I thought the trees mentioned were abutting the old schoolhouse on their property, little knowing that the trees were from the adjacent park. I even took pictures of the schoolhouse with the trees to appear in the story the next day.

That was not one of my better days. We had to print a retraction the following day.

The news business is a harsh mistress. News simply doesn’t happen at 6 o’clock, but rather around the clock. Hence the recent 24/7 news stations bringing news from around the world.

The fast pace of news beats provides us with many opportunities to provide informative stories that the public craves and demands. This fast pace also can create mishaps and mistakes along the way due to burn out, fatigue, or simple human error.

Fortunately, the newsroom has a defense against these unfortunate accidents. Called editors, they are the second pair of eyes for journalists with the goal of catching mistakes in grammar, word choice, and factual errors and omissions.

My process is twofold; to write news articles, sometimes accompanied by photos or infographics, and then turning my content over to city editors and managing editors to complete the process before going to print.

While catching errors should also be the writer’s responsibility, the fact that I couldn’t see the forest through the trees gives one pause for alarm.

While people may not care if trees are cut down in their neighborhood, they ought to know which ones they are before making that determination. That is the job of the news industry.

When writing, don’t always expect editors to catch every mistake. Mistakes DO happen. Instead, writers should cooperate with their editors to provide a clean clear story for the public to be either informed or entertained.

Happy self-editing!

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