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.
Encourage or require your staff to use an accuracy checklist. Craig Silverman has developed a good checklist and it inspired mine. Maybe you should appoint a staff committee to develop a checklist for your newsroom, paying special attention to breaking and unfolding stories. Maybe you share your draft of a checklist with the staff in a Google doc and invite everyone to edit.
Maybe you designate staff members to lead workshops on using the checklist, verifying information from social media and other accuracy topics.
When you and your staff make errors, be transparent in acknowledging and correcting them. Make sure corrections run in whichever platform the error appeared in.
I think that means checking to see who retweeted an erroneous tweet or a tweet linking to a post or story with a major error and tweeting at those people to ask them to also retweet the correction. Accountability means a posting the correction in comments on reposts where people have shared your post on their Facebook pages. (If you’re developing a large Twitter or Facebook following, that can be time-consuming, but you benefit from the traffic those people steer your way; you should reach out to correct major errors in social media. The work of correcting the error will underscore the importance of accuracy and of getting your facts right in the first place.)
Editors need to discuss errors with the staff members who made them, usually not punitively but prescriptively: Ask what the staff member is going to do to ensure that this error is not repeated (and, if it is, the discussion becomes more stern).
An editor who shows a commitment to accuracy sets an important tone for the newsroom. You will lead many changes in your newsroom, but if the commitment to accuracy changes at all, you must make it stronger.
How have you (or an editor you worked for) underscored the importance of accuracy to your newsroom?
@stevebuttry Thanks. I needed that. I’m really feeling like the enforcer today 😦
— Wanda Murren (@wmurren) May 8, 2013
— AndyStettler (@AndyStettler) May 8, 2013
— AndyStettler (@AndyStettler) May 8, 2013
— Michelle Karas (@bannereditor) May 8, 2013
Earlier posts with advice for editors
Here are topics I am planning on covering in this series (the order is tentative). What other topics should I cover?
- Standing up for your staff
- The power of questions
- Respecting authorship
- Face-to-face communication
- Personal life
- Time management
- Developing new leaders
- The editor’s blog
- Role models
The posts probably will run daily Monday-Friday for the next few weeks. If you’re another Digital First editor (or a leader or former leader in another organization) and would like to propose a guest post as part of the series, email me at sbuttry (at) digitalfirstmedia (dot) com and we’ll discuss. I’m not interested in a post of general leadership tips. I’d rather have a post on a particular leadership topic. Feel free to suggest a post that might address a topic I’ve already covered, but from a different perspective. I welcome posts that disagree with my advice. I will invite a few editors I respect to write posts.