January 10, 2010 in Opinion

Good news on accuracy

By The Spokesman-Review
 

In an era when the newspaper industry faces challenging economic conditions, it is nice to be able to report something positive about The Spokesman-Review. The newsroom staff significantly reduced the number of errors published in 2009, no small feat in these days of diminished resources.

Accuracy is a cornerstone of what newspaper journalists do every day. Accuracy goes to the heart of our credibility as a provider of information and chronicler of important news, sports and entertainment in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. We want our readers to trust us to get the basic facts right, which means spelling names correctly and printing precise details on dates, locations and times, among other essential items.

The improvement in accuracy during 2009 was dramatic: We published 263 corrections, a decline of 31 percent from 2008. I first started writing this annual report about accuracy to our readers in 2005, when we published 519 corrections. We’re not perfect, obviously, but I think our record demonstrates the seriousness of our efforts to get information correct.

Accuracy is a team sport in our newsroom. I’d like to publicly thank the reporters, photographers, copy editors, page designers and editorial assistants who have a hand in compiling and publishing the thousands of details that appear in a typical issue of a daily newspaper. I distribute a monthly note to our staff on our accuracy performance and remind them of how important this issue is to our readers. In addition, staffers are asked to submit a brief form explaining how each error occurred. The purpose of the form is not punitive, but simply an effort to examine our approach and help us avoid future mistakes.

A famous and perhaps apocryphal bromide for journalists, attributed to a former chief of the late Chicago City News Bureau, goes like this: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Journalism professors are known to give students a failing grade on a story written for class if it contains a misspelling. Sometimes people who are being interviewed wonder why we ask them to spell their names. Well, the truth is, common spellings just aren’t what they used to be.

Publishing a daily newspaper is a human endeavor, and it is unrealistic to expect that we will never again misspell a name or add figures incorrectly or that we will catch every typo in our stories, headlines and photo captions. It is frustrating when I receive an e-mail, phone message or letter from a disappointed reader who asks, “Don’t you people have copy editors down there at the newspaper?” Of course we have copy editors, and I think they do a terrific job. Copy editors and section editors are our last line of defense, and they work under daily deadlines that are unlike anything you’ll find in the majority of workplaces.

We will continue to emphasize the need for accuracy this year and my desire is that we’ll do even better on that score than we did in 2009. If you think we have made an error of fact, call (509) 459-5430.

Gary Graham is editor of The Spokesman-Review. He can be contacted at garyg@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5405.


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