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Posts Tagged ‘accuracy’

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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Journalism values are not timeless and etched in stone. Values have changed through the years and the digital-first journalist recognizes that they are changing today.

In some ways, a digital-first journalist shares the values of traditional journalism but may pursue them in different ways. In other ways, we pursue values that we think are more appropriate for the networked world we work in today.

We won’t entirely agree on values. Where we share values, we may vary in priority and practice. Digital-first leaders trust our journalists and the editors leading our newsrooms to make smart, ethical decisions. So don’t view this as a narrow template into which we must squeeze our journalism or as unanimously held views. These are some thoughts on values that guide journalists — how they are changing and how they endure. I share these views to stimulate discussion about digital-first values because I believe we value candid and vigorous discussion about journalism and journalism values.

I am examining and explaining digital-first journalism in a series of blog posts this week. I started yesterday with a discussion of how digital-first journalists work. Today I address the values that guide digital-first journalists: (more…)

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I wish I had seen Jay Rosen’s latest critique of “he said, she said” reporting before Saturday’s accuracy workshop at Georgetown University.

Jay provides an excellent example of reporting that is accurate but falls short of the journalistic principle of seeking the truth. That was a key point of the workshop: Yes, we taught about getting quotes accurate and verifying facts, but we stressed that accurate but incomplete or accurate but lacking context doesn’t fulfill the responsibility to seek, find and report the truth.

While I have called for updating some of the details in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, I love the direct, elegant wording of its first principle: Seek Truth and Report It. “He said, she said” reporting shrugs off this responsibility. In fact, it presents lies equally with the truth, which is hardly different from lying. (more…)

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I will be leading a workshop on accuracy and verification today with Craig Silverman for Georgetown University.

My slides and Craig’s are below. Some resources Craig and I (and others) have developed to help journalists ensure accuracy:

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An editor asks by email a question I hear often as journalists address the challenges of digital journalism: “Is it better to be first, or be right?”

Three times recently, the editor said, his staff was beaten (not on breaking news), but the competition had major errors in its reports. “When we published, we got the stories right, though, again, not first,” the editor said.

I regard this as a false choice, but if you must present it that way, my answer is that you always want to be right. Accuracy is one of our highest values as journalists, and you don’t sacrifice accuracy for the sake of competition. (more…)

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I’ve been pleased with the response to my accuracy checklist. I want to call your attention to two follow-ups by Craig Silverman and Stephen Colbert: (more…)

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I don’t generally use a to-do list unless something is really important.

If I’m taking off on a long trip and need to be sure I don’t forget something, I’ll make a list the night before. If I forget something, adjusting on the plane or the road can be difficult or impossible. But I don’t start the workday with a to-do list. I know the day is going to throw me some surprises, and what’s important by the end of the day won’t be the same as what was important in the morning. So I don’t bother with a list. I just start the day, do what’s important and figure I’ll get a lot of important work done. Most days I do.

When I heard Craig Silverman talk about how effective checklists are in preventing errors, I decided I needed a checklist. After all, what’s more important than accuracy? (more…)

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Thanks to Craig Silverman for letting TBD and the American University School of Communication post a podcast and slides from his Oct. 28 accuracy workshop.

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