An accuracy checklist to take with you
Mark Memmott is NPR’s Standards & Practices Editor. A version of this post originally appeared in one of his “Memmos.”
The checklist that follows is a reminder of things we all know we should do. It’s meant to be particularly useful to correspondents and producers. They collect the information we put on the air and online and they are expected to do all they can to make sure that what we report is accurate.
Think of the checklist as a tool. Print a 3″x5″ copy for yourself and please use it. We know we will make mistakes. But we all need to do what we can to reduce them.
Things to double-check
– SUPERLATIVES. If something is said to be the “first,” “last,” “best,” “worst,” “only,” “oldest,” “youngest” etc., that claim must be verified. If it can’t be, the claim should be deleted or qualified – and clearly attributed.
– PERSONAL NAMES. Verify them, spell them correctly (for radio and the Web) and confirm pronunciations.
– AGES. Get a person’s date of birth and do the math.
– TITLES. President, CEO, professor, etc. They must be accurate.
– NAMES of BUSINESSES, SCHOOLS and INSTITUTIONS.
– DAYS and DATES. Are you sure this happened then?
– HISTORICAL “FACTS.” Are you sure it happened that way?
– LOCATIONS. Is that where this happened? Is that where this person is from?
– NUMBERS and CALCULATIONS. Do the math yourself. Should it be millions, billions or trillions? Is the decimal in the correct place? Is it percent or percentage point?
– QUOTES. They must be attributed to the right person.
– WEB ADDRESSES and PHONE NUMBERS. They have to be tested.
– GRAMMAR and SPELLING. Note: What goes in a radio script may end up on the Web.
When an NPR journalist says something is ready for editing, that journalist is confirming that all such double-checking has been done. If something hasn’t yet been nailed down, the journalist will alert the editor. When news is breaking and we’re covering it live, NPR journalists make clear what is “known” and what is ”not known.”
– Will ask: Has everything that needs to be double-checked been double-checked?
– Will still check: The accuracy of the reporting.
When mistakes are made
– We own them. This is important: If you realize a mistake has been made, email email@example.com and notify the appropriate editor or producer. Senior managers need to be told about “serious” mistakes.
– We correct them.