Who's Checking the Facts?
DFW Chapter President and National Blog Chairwoman
When I was a cub reporter at a small Northeast Texas five-day-a-week hometown newspaper, I aspired to be more. I tried to do the stories that the townspeople wanted to read about, but seldom received. I did research and numerous interviews regarding the occult activity in the county (for which I received a nice little APME award). I did stories on the high school band member who made all-state. (No awards for that one.) But, one thing I never did, was take someone's word for the God's honest truth. I have always been a skeptic.
When someone tells me that achieved a particular award or recognition, I tend to weigh that information in regard to the trust I have for the source versus picking up the phone or doing a quick Internet search to try and verify the fact.
But, reporters and editors can get complacent. I mean, when you're doing a fluffy feel-good piece on someone, why would he lie about a seemingly mediocre achievement? Why check it out? Because it can be precisely a big old lie. That's why. Orlando Magazine had to issue a mea culpa and throw itself under the bus regarding just such an example.
What should have been a simple color feature on a local artist turned into one of the biggest embarrassments I have witnessed from a publication. Wow. Apparently, this guy fabricated a litany of life events that actually belonged to his high school buddy. What is truly sad is that the guy was worthy of a story for his own life.
Discovering this story comes on the heels of reading about a multitude of news publications prematurely announcing the death of an elected official. Oops. Looks like the reporters relied on "anonymous" sources for the erroneous information. So, how do you balance getting the scoop with knowing that your information is correct? In this electronic age when we're all trying to get the edge on the competition by posting on the publication's website, how do you weigh unconfirmed information versus confirmed information?
We have a reporter who failed to verify a source's easily attainable information and embarrassed the publication while calling into question the plausibility of every story that is ran there. But, who of us would actually call around to check out harmless background facts? We all should, as this story demonstrates. Additionally, we have another credibility issue with numerous news organizations relying on unconfirmed reports.
Little wonder there is such a disregard for our industry. So, how do we counter those issues and demonstrate that we are accurate more than we are wrong when the errors are so glaringly apparent? My only answer is that we have to strive to be correct all of the time. We have to maintain our standards of finding trustworthy and reliable sources while weighing the consequences of our conduct. And, we have to thoroughly check our sources on even the most mundane of facts. There is no excuse for lazy reporting or editing.