J-333 / News Editing
Frank E. Fee Jr.
Lecture Recap - Day 2
The subject was accuracy.
To get at the importance of accuracy, we talked about our obligation
to readers and viewers to get the facts they depend on, to get them right
and to put them in an accurate, authentic context. Getting things right
also means our jobs, of course.
Why accuracy? An accurate portrayal of the day's events is what we stake
our reputations on. We've got to "get it right." There is no acceptable
substitute. People depend on us. Credibility, based on an accurate news
report is a major concern. Click on the American Society of Newspaper Editors
report for some important public opinion research in this regard.
Keep in mind that it is everybody's job. We're each responsible for
the accuracy of our newspaper or broadcast or press release, etc. We can
each make it better, whether it's our story or photo or graphic or headline
or story selection, or somebody else's. And it won't happen unless each
of us makes accuracy a priority. For copy editors -- that is who we are
in this class -- ensuring accuracy and precision is built into our job
descriptions and evaluations. We must be better than anyone else in the
newsroom at applying the standards and procedures that are common to all
Often -- most often -- accuracy is simply a matter of knowing how to
do the job and then doing the job carefully.
Keep in mind, too, that none of these things is just for big papers
-- or only happens in small ones.
Research shows that all newspaper errors can be put in one of six types
or environments for inaccuracy. These are:
(1) Mechanical/Objective -- spelling, grammar, punctuation, numbers,
identifications and locations, keyboarding errors -- typos -- and stylebook
errors. These are the most frequently identifiable in newspapers but they're
also the most easily avoided -- if we use care and precision. The online
handout, "44 Tips
for Greater Accuracy," grew out of actual newsroom experiences and
offers practical advice on eliminating mechanical/objective errors.
(2) Operational -- the conditions under which we do news work. There
never seem to be enough time, space, sources, resources, you name it. Everything's
done on a deadline and if we say news is the unusual and the unexpected,
then our definition sets up the parameters of risk.
(3) Situational -- special constraints that vary with the type of news.
The explosion, fire or airline crash may leave us scrambling for sources
and facts amid chaos and organizational meltdown. Lots of room for mistakes
(4) Topical. Some topics are more difficult to get straight -- to everybody's
satisfaction. Tough as technical or mathematical subjects may be for many
journalists, there's usually a clear right or wrong in the presentation
of numbers or definitions and concepts. Much more prone to challenge are
those rhetorical issues in which there is no clear right or wrong to the
position itself (e.g., the abortion issue, school prayer). Often the challenges
involve fairness or completeness of coverage.
(5) Cognitive. Each of us has an individual take on the world. What's
"truth" depends partly on how we perceive the world, what we know, personal
experience, training, education, filters (gender, cultural and other),
values, etc. We need to be aware of the potential for a report skewed by
our world view.
(6) Normative -- what guides journalists in their work -- the "rules"
of journalism. The inverted pyramid form pushes journalists to see the
world in ways that differ from how many readers see it. Journalists sometimes
have a hard time explaining to nonjournalists what we do and how and why
we do it, much less convincing the nonjournalists that we're right.
By the way ...
One of you asked after class about instructions for the first topic
paper, on accuracy. I'm not sure I can make the instructions any more clear
than those stated in the assignment, but I'll be happy to respond to any
questions. I think it will all make sense once you have read the 44
Tips for Greater Accuracy, but I'll be happy to work with you if you
still have questions.
Managing the Reference Tools
One of the important tools in an accurate daily report is the reference
file. You don't have to KNOW EVERYTHING, just be able to look everything
up. The readers will never understand how something that's in a directory
or a dictionary can get mangled by a journalist. Learn to use the references
and become familiar with what kinds of information they contain BEFORE
you need them. And when in doubt, look it up. If you get to the lab early,
it would pay you to browse the reference cabinet to become familiar with
the kinds of reference material available to you. You'll need to use it
However, keep in mind that reference works quickly get out of date.
Always check the publication date or, if a Web site, the date of the last
update. And then, get corroboration of the facts you plan to use. Just
because something got printed doesn't make it accurate.
Also, follow the Rule of the Best Source, whether the source is a human
being or a reference work. Just having sources isn't good enough. A story
must have the right sources to be on target.
Anyone who would like some extra help with the basics of the Mac computers
and QuarkXPress 4.0 in Room 001 should get in touch with me soon.
Likewise, anyone having trouble with basic Internet searches can stop
by for some additional coaching. Call ahead (3-9851) to set up a time.
Style Quiz Tutorial
As I hope you've noticed, the first of the AP Style quizzes is coming
up next class. You can get an idea of the format by looking at the StyleBuilder
page I've put together. Hope it helps.
And as always, if you have comments or questions, you can call
me at 593-9851 (o) or 594-5251 (h), or send me an e-mail
message for virtual office hours. You can even stop in for a real visit.
You're always welcome.
-- Frank Fee