How to learn to be accurate

Every journalist knows the importance of getting it right. As the legendary publisher Joseph Pulitzer once said, there are three rules of journalism: Accuracy, accuracy and accuracy. Mistakes damage credibility so preventing errors is paramount. But how are journalists taught to do that?

Not very well, says Craig Silverman, founder of Regret The Error.com. J-school students may lose points for errors like misspelled names but fear of mistakes doesn’t lead to accuracy, Silverman says. Instead, he suggests formal accuracy training based on real world examples, public consequences and checklists.

One school is doing this now, according to Silverman: the Tilburg School of Journalism in the Netherlands, which has a three week fact checking program for its fourth year students.

Each morning, the students gather in a room to review the day’s news and identify stories that seem questionable. Then they go to work, hitting the phones and other sources to pull suspicious stories apart and see if they hold up to scrutiny. As of today, roughly 80 per cent of the stories checked have contained some form of factual mistake, according to instructor and Dutch journalist Theo Dersjant. Their findings are published on a blog.

Here’s the best part. If the students goof up and falsely accuse a journalist of making a mistake, they have to apologize in person and hand deliver a pie!

Sounds like a great system to me. Any other schools want to try it? Any schools already doing something similar? Let us know in the comments.

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