Thoroughness and Fact Checking

Facts are a journalist’s stock in trade. Getting them right is key to your credibility. So what happens when you make a mistake?

Facts are a journalist’s stock in trade. Getting them right is key to your credibility. So what happens when you make a mistake?

Earlier this week I attended a product launch event. It was a spectacular launch held in a proper theatre, with the string section from an orchestra, celebrity host and currently popular artist doing a song. I was flown in for the event.

The whole thing took about two and a half hours. To get there, my day started at 5.00am with a drive to the airport, flight and cab to the event. By the time it was over, I headed back to the airport and sat in the lounge to quickly look at the new product. I only had about 20 minutes but I noticed something that hadn’t been mentioned at the launch.

In my rush, what I had thought was something previously unmentioned was actually a mistake on my part. However, as it was unexpected, I called the vendor’s local representatives and asked if this was a feature of the device. They did some quick checking and confirmed that this was an important new feature.

So I made an error and the “fact” was confirmed as “correct” by a trustworthy source. I wrote the story and it was published online. I did note in my story that I hadn’t tested the feature.

These sorts of errors are likely to become more common. Not because journalists are less competent but because we live is a world of short news cycles, short attentions spans and limited resources for validating information.

I’m fortunate that most of the work I do is not news-related. So I usually have time to thoroughly test and check my work before submitting it to my editor. But with news, it’s often a race and that sort of time isn’t available. Coupled with my need to get on a plane, I rushed, made a mistake, got some bad information and ended up publishing with an error.

Credibility is critical for a successful freelancer. And getting the facts right is a core competency for a journalist. Next time, I’ll be more thorough and won’t push something out until I’m 100% certain.

2 thoughts on “Thoroughness and Fact Checking”

  1. To er, err, is human … as I know too readily with my own inputs. But must kindly point out that, second full-width para, third line, now reads “… to quickly look a (sic) the new product”. Presumably “at” intended there, Anthony. 🙂

    Regards,

    Murray

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