Fixing Our Mistakes Before They Happen

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"Giving a higher priority to tracking errors, finding out how they occurred and taking

steps to reduce and eliminate them begin with the top editor" (9).

I felt that our assigned reading was very informative and offered some new insights into the career of journalism.  This quote, however, was a little off the mark.  Now, maybe some people will see this entry as being overly picky, but I think it's a fundamental truth that was misconstrued in this quote.  Reducing and eliminating errors should start with the journalist.  Yes, obiviously the editor needs to make tracking errors a higher priority, but there are certain things that it's up to the reporter to get right.  For example, has anyone ever been misquoted?  I have, and so have many people I know.  My sister gave a speech at our high school graduation that included a line, "While we like to think the end is the most important part of the journey, but it's the journey that matters in the end."  The paper quoted her as saying, "The end is what matters in a journey."  Yeah, not quite the same effect, is it? 

Here there would have been no way for the editor to catch that this was a misquote, unless he/she had been sitting in and taking notes on the speeches.  The journalist needs to be attentive and painstaking with his/her articles.  Eliminating errors starts as soon as pencil hits paper, not as soon as the paper hits the editor's desk. 

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6 Comments

You make a very good point, but I think part of this passage emphasizes that often the mistakes happen because of a lack of communication -- editor 1 starts to edit a story and tells the author to make some changes, then his shift ends; editor 2 comes on, makes a few of her own changes, then publishes the story before the author can act on the changes editor 1 suggested. That's not really the fault of the reporter, who is out in the field or on the phone and has no idea why his story ended up being published as a botched mess.

The reporter who's annoyed that his story got botched is already working on the next story, but it's up to the editor to track down the chain of oversights and assumptions and bad luck that led to something inaccurate being published.

Greta Carroll said:

Yes, I can see what you are saying, Josie. And I agree with you in some ways, but not in others. I agree that in many cases there is no way for the editor to know if what the journalist wrote is correct or not. Your example with quotes is good. Editors also don’t have time to comb through every article double-checking addresses, times, etc. I agree that ultimately the correctness of the article and the responsibility for it should come back to the article’s author.

However, I think what Haiman was trying to stress was that if editors are not demanding of their reporters, the reporters will not think they have to be demanding of themselves. It’s kind of like if you have a professor who doesn’t care too much if you come to class and isn’t too worried about what your essay says (they just case if you turn in an essay in and give you a good grade if you do), you are going to spend less time on that professor’s assignments and devote more to the professor who is going to carefully go through your story, picking out every small mistake. I think it’s the same in this case. If the editor won’t stand for anything but the best, the journalists will be forced to rise to the occasion.

Aja Hannah said:

I actually agree with you Josie. Editors are supposed to edit, but why not start with the journalist.

My question is the editors should give a higher priority to tracking errors than what? Clearly we're talking about fact-checking or copy editors here, not layout editors.

Josie Rush said:

Dr. Jerz and Greta- I definitely agree with both of you: Reporting is a collaborative process, and the importance of communication *is* stressed in this section of reading; that's something I should've addressed as well in this entry.
Aja- Good question. I think what Haiman is saying that the editor should make checking for errors more of a priority than it usually is.
I agree that attitude reflects leadership (good comparison to a classroom/professor, Greta. That really makes sense), so the editor should definitely be concerned with getting information correct. However, wouldn't it be ideal if journalists were passionate about this regardless of other influences?

Angela Palumbo said:

Well...I wrote you a big, beautiful response, Josie. The problem is I forgot to copy it (I always try to copy what I say) I usually do before I attempt to post. Of course, I got a comment submission error and lost all of my work. But, as my post expressed, I got too comfortable so I messed up. I'll just save you and me both the time by giving you a shorter, numbered outline of my points.

To paraphrase my former stuff I
1) Said great conversation
2) Agreed with your original point, Josie
3) Gave an alternate analogy to compliment Greta's analogy. It had to do with getting too comfortable playing soccer teams you know are bad. This comforability can result in a close game or a loss.
4) I finished by saying sometimes getting too comfortable is bad for your productivity such as doing homework in bed.

Greta Carroll said:

That would be the ideal situation, Josie. And, in fact, I think some are this passionate. I kind of deal with this on the reflection I wrote on your blog (which you can read here: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/GretaCarroll/2009/10/high_quality_expectations_star.html ). There are students and journalists out there who will work hard and strive for their best regardless of anyone else's demands on them. However, sadly, not everyone will be that passionate. Therefore, if the higher up's demand more, the people who may be tempted to take the easy-way out will be forced to step it up and even those who are passionate will strive harder and complete better work if they see the editor/teacher both demands and appreciates good work.

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