Reporter’s Checklist For Accuracy

Posted February 19, 2019 by Bill Wheelhouse
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Reporters always feel rushed.   Take the extra time with these simple steps to make sure your story is accurate.  It may sound basic, but it is important to be “Brilliant On The Basics”, as someone once said.

I first came across this list from Deborah Potter who ran Newslab in the early 2000’s.  It was later updated.   See the updated checklist.

Here is a slightly condensed version.

1. Confirm information that could be in doubt

* Any unattributed information is a red flag, demanding further investigation. Even two sources may not constitute confirmation, because one source may have learned the information from the other. Always ask: How do they know what they know, and why are they telling me this?

* Make sure that anyone claiming to be an eyewitness actually was at the scene and in a position to observe what they are telling you. In breaking news situations in particular, people often sound authoritative when they are actually passing along unconfirmed rumors.

2. Clarify context

* Make sure the soundbites or quotes you choose to use fully capture what each person meant to say. A survey of people who were sources in television news stories found that one person in three said important information was left out of a story and one in five complained that his or her interview was taken out of context.

* If you need to, add information in your narration/track to put comments into context.

3. Look for what might be missing

* Review your story with an eye to significant information or points of view that have not been included. Look at each quote or soundbite, in particular, and ask: Who would disagree or take a different position?

* Contact people whose views are not reflected in the story and give them a chance to talk. If they decline, make mention of that in your story.

4. Review for focus

* Make sure your story backs up your lead. Have you over-reached or over-stated the story?

* Restate the focus of your story, and review the script to see if you have stayed on point or strayed from your focus. (A bonus: This is a good way to find places where you can trim the script to save time.)

5. Check names, places, titles

* Be sure you have attributed information to the correct source in every case.

* Make sure you have checked the spelling of proper names. If possible, check directly with the source. Press releases can be wrong. Even business cards may not show a current title.

6. Check spelling, grammar, usage

* Spelling and grammar count–especially in this age of graphics, closed captioning and Web usage. If you are not positive about a spelling, look it up.

* Read scripts out loud to find and fix grammar and usage problems. If in doubt, ask a colleague or check a reference guide.

7. Do the math

* Stories with numbers must be checked to make sure the numbers add up. Recalculate percentages, percent change, ratios, and the like, no matter where you got them. Online calculators make this much easier than it sounds.

* Check with an expert not involved in the story if you have any questions about how the numbers were calculated.

8. Fact check graphics

* Make sure the information you provide to graphics is correct–especially numbers. Call to confirm all telephone numbers and visit all Web addresses.

* Look at the completed graphic before air to catch mistakes.

9. Be precise about pronunciations

* Make a habit of checking the pronunciation of names and places while you are in the field. Ask people to say their names on tape, so you can go back and listen, if necessary.

* If you are new to an area, be extra careful with names and places that may look familiar but could be pronounced quite differently from what you expect. Nothing raises more doubts about your credibility than mispronouncing a word your audience thinks you should know.  Check out the Illinois News Broadcasters Association guide.

10. Screen the finished story

* Be sure that your words and pictures are telling the same story.

* Be sure the narration and soundbites match the finished script, and that mistakes have not crept in during tracking or editing.