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 credibility 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 journalism.
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 here.
(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 here 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 soon.
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.



Special Offer! 

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