Factual errors-accuracy

Factual errors and accuracy

Plagiarism may be the worst sin in journalism, but a close second is creating a factual error (or any kind of inaccuracy).

Editors stop at a factual error and throw your article (or your idea for an article) in the waste-paper bin.  The editor would angrily ask himself: “If the writer can’t get this simple but important fact correct, what other factual mistakes and mistakes are in this article?”

Attention to detail is so important.  The most-often occurring factual error I see from my students is saying they hope to interview a famous person and not realising that person is dead.  It would make you look foolish and uncaring if this was seen by an editor.

You wouldn’t mis-spell your own name or put a wrong phone number or make some other error in your own letterhead or business card.  An editor, or your famous interviewee, wanting to dial you would be mightily unimpressed that you’ve put the wrong number of your own mobile in your own business card.

But yes, I’ve seen students do it.  I’ve even had students who have misspelled their own names and not noticed.  I’ve seen students who address a letter correctly to say Sam Smith, but then start the letter with

Dear Mr Jones . . .

We all make silly errors.

It’s picking up the errors (not trusting yourself) that is so important.

  • Don’t trust your own memory
  • Don’t trust your own handwritten notes
  • Don’t trust what your friend or loved one is ABSOLUTELY SURE about some “fact”
  • Trust only double-checking and triple-checking if necessary
  • Be fussy

If an editor detects that you do not pay attention to detail, you’re unlikely to look like a good prospective freelance journalist.

Make sure that what you write is logical and sensible, and does not contain a goofy mistake because you’re not paying attention to what you’re typing.  Like the journalist who wrote:

“Motorists are 2½ times more likely to be killed in a fatal accident in the bush than in the city.”

Explanation: FATAL accidents kill people.  So someone in the bush can’t be more likely to die than someone in the city because, as I say, in FATAL accidents, everyone dies.

Accuracy is SO important.

Accuracy is everything:

  • You must spell 100% correctly
  • You must get your facts right
  • You must type accurately
  • You must care about every tiny detail of your article
  • You must develop a reputation for accuracy

If you wrote Wilson won four retailing awards in 2007, your editor should have such confidence in your devotion to accuracy that he will not bother to double-check.

Editors give most work to freelancers who cause no problems.  Journalists who can’t be trusted to:

GET IT RIGHT, win less and less work until they finally fade away.

If you write an unusual spelling like Willson, after you type Willson type (repeat Willson), like this:

Store manager Joan Willson (REPEAT: WILLSON WITH DOUBLE-L) is now . . .

Your editor knows Willson is not a typo (typographical error) but an unusual spelling.  He has no need to come back and ask: “Is her name supposed to be spelt with a double-L?”

Always anticipate an editor’s worries, concerns and suspicions, and if necessary write a covering note explaining unusual spellings or unexpected facts.

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