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Posts Tagged ‘accuracy’

I’m going to repeat myself here, but journalists, not sources, are responsible for the accuracy of our stories.

Jack Shafer has a great post on “anonymous sources,”* prompted by the New York Times walking back from two stories it had based on unnamed sources (stories you probably read or heard about that apparently falsely disparaged golfer Phil Mickelson and former prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl). I encourage reading Shafer’s piece and won’t go into detail on it here.

But remember this is the newspaper that reported false information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then published reporter Judith Miller’s explanation, “If your sources are wrong, you are wrong.”

That was the weakest explanation of journalistic malpractice of anything I’ve heard, and that includes reporters who blame plagiarism or malpractice on being busy or rushed or on careless note-taking.

The Times apparently didn’t learn or has forgotten the important and difficult lessons it learned in the Miller case.

It’s kind of incredible to me that any journalists don’t understand this, but your sources are nearly always wrong. Not about everything, but usually about something. Verification is your job, not the source’s.

Sources can be wrong for a variety of reasons, innocent as well as malicious (some of these reasons apply to on-the-record sources, but I’m focusing on unnamed sources here): (more…)

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I am leading some workshops for the Southern Regional Press Institute at Savannah State University today. 

I participated in a panel discussion on “Ethics, Urgency and Accuracy” this morning.

Here are some links relating to ethics, urgency and accuracy (I made some of the points you’ll see in these links).

How to verify information from tweets: Check it out

Suggestions for new guiding principles for the journalist

My version of Craig Silverman’s accuracy checklist

The Verification Handbook is now available

I led a morning workshop on using Twitter to cover breaking news. In addition to the links above, this workshop covered information from these workshops:

Denver Post staffers’ #theatershooting coverage demonstrates Twitter breaking news techniques

You don’t tip competitors on Twitter; you beat them

Twitter is an essential reporting tool

Here are my slides for that workshop (I developed them knowing we weren’t likely to cover all the topics. We covered the first three and skipped to verification):

I developed these slides to use in either the panel discussion or the breaking-news workshop. I ended up using them to wrap up the breaking-news workshop:

I also will lead an afternoon workshop on showcasing your work and your skills in a digital portfolio. This workshop is based primarily on this blog post:

Use digital tools to showcase your career and your work

The workshop also will cover points made in some of these posts:

Your digital profile tells people a lot

Randi Shaffer shows a reason to use Twitter: It can help land your first job

Elevate your journalism career

Tips on landing your next job in digital journalism

Job-hunting advice for journalists selling skills in the digital market

Here are my slides for that workshop:

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Verification HandbookI was honored to have been involved in the writing of The Verification Handbook, which is available now as an ebook.

I’ll blog more about it later after I read the other chapters (I wrote one chapter). For right now, I’ll say:

  • Congratulations to Project Manager Rina Tsubaki and Editor Craig Silverman. It was a pleasure to work with you.
  • Thanks for involving me.
  • I’m delighted that this book is geared not just at journalists, but emergency workers, humanitarian organizations and others who gather and distribute information, especially in crises.
  • For more on the vide0-documentation story I told in my chapter, check out my recent blog post on that story.

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John Kroll, photo linked from johnkrolldigital.com

John Kroll advises journalists to fact-check by asking the 5 W’s when we’re reporting on statistics that sources cite.

The truth is that many statistics cited in news stories are not fully vetted by journalists. Someone we regard as knowledgeable cites a figure and we parrot it.

But we should always ask the most important verification question: How do you know that? And too often, as John points out in asking the 5 W’s about a bogus but oft-cited stat about 100,000 Christians being killed for their faith every year, the answer is that the source doesn’t really know.

Truthfulness and verification are the core of good journalism. John gives some excellent advice for verifying numbers and getting closer to the truth.

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This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

The Digital First editor needs to lead the staff in mastering the art of reporting the unfolding story accurately.

Your staff needs to understand that getting-it-first and getting-it-right are not conflicting choices but essential dual priorities. If you don’t have it right, you don’t have it first – you don’t have it at all. But you work to get it right quickly. Your staff needs to work urgently to report news as you verify facts.

Demand verification. Ask frequently, “How do you know that?” Then ask, “How else do you know that?” (I’m not sure which journalist first started stressing the first question, but I first heard the “How else …” question from Rosalie Stemer.)

Much attention lately has been paid to the importance of verifying information from social media. You need to demand verification in all situations: not just information reported in tweets, but information from routine sources and from unnamed sources. You don’t just accept the he-said-she-said story from reporters; you insist that they dig past the conflicting stories and report the truth. (more…)

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I am leading a workshop this afternoon for the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M. I will use tips or techniques from many, perhaps all, of my #twutorial posts:

Step one for using Twitter as a reporter: Master advanced search

Use lists, TweetDeck, HootSuite, saved searches, alerts to organize Twitter’s chaos

Denver Post staffers’ #theatershooting coverage demonstrates Twitter breaking news techniques

Hashtags help journalists find relevant tweets and reach more people

Advice and examples on how and what journalists should tweet

9 ways to find helpful people and organizations to follow on Twitter

To build Twitter followers: Join the conversation, tweet often, be yourself

10 ways Twitter is valuable for journalists

Updated Twitter time management tips

Don’t be selfish on Twitter; tweeting useful information is good business

What’s the best way to view Twitter’s users? 16 percent or 30 million

Twitter data shows journos’ ‘burstiness’ boosts followers

#Twutorial guest post from Alexis Grant: A simple Twitter strategy that will dramatically grow your network

#Twutorial guest post from Deanna Utroske: Tips for twinterviewing

#Twutorial guest post by Menachem Wecker: How to use Twitter to find the best sources

#Twutorial guest post by Jaclyn Schiff: How using Storify can help you find great sources

Getting started on Twitter: #twutorial advice for a friend

Should a journalist livetweet a funeral? If so, how?

Use Twitter for conversation about an event, not just promotion

How to verify information from tweets: check it out

In addition, these two posts that predate the #twutorial series cover some of the points I’ll make in the workshop:

Suggestions for livetweeting

Updated and expanded Twitter tips for journalists

And I’ll use this Andy Carvin Storify acount as an example as well as this Denver plane crash.

Here are the slides for my workshop today (I may not use all the slides and probably won’t get to the case study that the last several slides cover):

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Journalists should treat information we gather on social media the same way we treat information gathered any other way, or an assurance from Mom that she loves you: Check it out.

My #twutorial series hasn’t been updated since late October, but I always planned to do a post on verifying information gathered in social media. Given the errors some journalists made in reporting on the Sandy Hook massacre and in the original reporting on Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend, this feels like a good time to stress accuracy and verification.

The most simple and important advice I can give is that Twitter is like any other information source — documents, anonymous tips, news releases, press conferences, interviews, databases — it can provide valuable information or deliberate lies or innocent errors. Your job is to verify the information that looks useful. As with all the other information you gather, you can verify lots of different ways, and no single technique works for everything.

Some of the tips I provide here will be specific to Twitter or to social media generally. Some will be general verification tips applied to Twitter. And I’m sure I won’t cover all the ways you could verify information from tweets. As with all reporting, resourcefulness is essential. Develop some verification techniques of your own (and please remember to share them in the comments here). (more…)

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A military honor guard carries Brandon Buttry’s casket from the airplane that brought him home to Shenandoah, Iowa.

After my nephew, Brandon Buttry, was killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, I played a role no one ever anticipates: handling media requests about a loved one’s death.

I’m blogging some advice learned from the experience for any or all of three audiences:

  • Relatives of fallen troops who want to help the family deal with the media. (If my advice is helpful, I hope they will find the post through search or by someone sharing with them when they need it).
  • Journalists (the usual readers of this blog) who may cover military deaths.
  • Military public affairs officers or casualty assistance officers, who assist families of military casualties after the death. (I’m hoping they will find this piece through search or Google alerts or perhaps journalists sharing it with them.)

Some of my advice might fit in other situations where your family is suddenly in the news — death from a disaster or crime, for instance — but I am focusing on military deaths because that was my experience and that is a loss that more than 6,000 U.S.  families have experienced during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope you won’t need this advice, but sadly, the carnage in Afghanistan continues. (more…)

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When it comes to language choices, I try to decide matters based on accuracy.

This is why I want to call on all journalists and news organizations to stop using the term “alleged victim,” especially in stories about sexual abuse (almost the only type of stories where it appears).

It’s a blame-the-victim term we should banish forever from the journalism lexicon. You want to know why? Here’s the second definition of “alleged” at Dictionary.com:

doubtful; suspect; supposed

And here’s a fact about victims of sexual abuse: Their stories are almost always credible. So, in most cases, alleged victim is not only insensitive, but inaccurate.

(The first definition for alleged, “declared or stated to be as described; asserted,” is accurate, but if people could read a second definition as the meaning, we should look for a more accurate word.)

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On more than one occasion, reporters have screwed up facts when writing about me. At least once I knew I was misquoted. So I have some empathy for Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise, who is being taken to task for his fact-checking technique.

Getting our facts straight should be a top priority of every journalist. We get them wrong more often than we know (I usually have not corrected the journalists who reported inaccurately about me). We should weigh all factors in considering efforts to ensure accuracy.

As recounted in a story by the Texas Observer, de Vise emailed an unpublished draft of a story to University of Texas officials, inviting them to raise with him any concerns they had about it. The Observer obtained copies of emails between de Vise and university officials through an open records request and quoted extensively from the emails, which indicated this was a common practice for de Vise.

A Thursday memo to the Post staff from Editor Marcus Brauchli, reported by Jim Romenesko, makes clear that Post reporters should not share drafts of stories with sources except with Brauchli’s permission.

I question de Vise’s judgment, and I would have handled things differently. But people who reject the notion of sharing a story in advance with a source as unethical are trying to simplify journalism ethics to matters of black and white. Way too often journalism ethics are murky shades of gray or any of the many colors of the rainbow. We often wish life were simple. But it’s not, especially in many of the tough questions of journalism ethics.

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This was a handout I developed in 2006 for a series of ethics seminars for the American Press Institute. It appeared online originally at No Train, No Gain, but has not been available online for the last couple of years. I am republishing it without updating to accompany a new blog post of the issue of advance review of news stories by sources

Some ethical issues in journalism are black-and-white: Every newspaper agrees that you don’t fabricate and you don’t plagiarize. Do either and your career may be over. Advance review of copy is an area of wide disagreement. For some editors, it would be a firing offense for a reporter to show a story to a source prior to publication. Other editors want their reporters to show stories to sources before publication, at least in some circumstances. Some prominent reporters make it a regular practice. We’re not going to resolve that issue here. That’s for your editors and you to decide. We will examine arguments on both sides of the issue and things to consider if you do show stories to sources, either as a routine or in special cases.

Why you shouldn’t show

For many years, journalists had pretty strong agreement on this subject: You didn’t show stories to sources before publication. Many journalists, probably a majority, still feel this way in most, if not all, cases. These journalists cite multiple reasons not to disclose the contents of stories in advance of publication: (more…)

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Craig Silverman has assembled eight “must reads” on how to verify information gathered through social media. I don’t have time to elaborate on them (and I would mostly just repeat what Craig and the writers say).

So don’t waste time reading my blog. Click on the link above and read what Craig and the others he has linked to have written. I will add them soon to my resources for accuracy and verification.

 

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