Declaring war on errors

The founder of the Web site Regret the Error (slogan: Mistakes Happen), Craig Silverman, has a new book out by the same name. It’s not just a compendium of hilarious newspaper corrections, although there are plenty of them, including these winners:

* “We spelt Morecambe, the town in Lancashire, wrong again on page 2, G2, yesterday. We often do.” (The Guardian)

* “Mr. Smith said in court, ‘I am terribly sorry. I have a dull life and I suddenly wanted to break away.’ He did not say, as we reported erroneously, ‘I have a dull wife and I suddenly wanted to break away.’ We apologise to Mr. Smith, and to Mrs. Smith.” (Daily Mail)

As Carl Sessions Stepp’s review in American Journalism Review points out, Silverman’s book also offers a series of recommendations to improve accuracy.

Among his useful ideas are better training in interviewing and note-taking; accuracy checklists and a 10-minute fact-checking period before reporters turn in copy; greater use of anti-plagiarism software; increased post-publication surveys of sources to monitor accuracy; and random fact-checking of one story from each section of every issue.

These are not only good ideas, they can actually be implemented in any newsroom at little or no cost. Here’s how to get started: Print and use this accuracy checklist; then read this research showing how a “post-publication survey of sources” can be used to monitor TV news accuracy. Impose your own 10-minute rule to check your work and encourage your colleagues to do the same. A newsroom that tries all of Silverman’s simple suggestions might be able to eliminate what he says are the most common errors: the careless, preventable ones.


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