I’ve only made one error in my time reporting for the DTH that required a correction, but it was a doosy. Still a freshman, I referred to a woman I interviewed as a man. “Was it just a pronoun mixup?” you ask. Absolutely not. In my mind, this woman was a man. When I interviewed her over the phone, I had no doubt she was a woman. When I wrote the story, a few hours later, I thought of her as a man. (Check out the correction and story here).
For the record, this source was exceedingly polite about my mistake. But that’s not always the case, nor should it be. A factual error can really be harmful to someone’s reputation (for instance, when you throw some extra genitalia into the mix). When we make big mistakes, we expect people to be angry. And we’re angry too. As Managing Editor Elise Young would tell you, there’s nothing we hate more than messing up. Newspapers rely on the perception among their readers that what they read is accurate. When corrections become commonplace, a newspaper’s legitimacy is challenged.
So how do these sorts of mistakes happen in an organization that builds fact checking into every step of its process?
At the DTH, we have a system called ‘cq’ing. Basically, this entails the writer of an article creating several notes within the text of his or her story for each individual fact, name, etc. that needs to be checked. These notes, which contain Internet links, references to a document, or any other source, are individually checked and verified by a whopping five editors throughout the editing process.
But sometimes even this process fails. It fails much too often.