By Robert J. Geline, President, 144 Media
Arthur S. Brisbane is the Public Editor of The New York Times. In a recent Sunday column, he reported that last year The Times corrected 3,500 errors, most of them spelling mistakes, dates and historical facts.
That’s almost 10 errors of fact a day.
The statistic came from of Greg Brock, a senior editor who handles corrections for The Times. Mr. Brock explained to Brisbane what leads to these types of errors: “Reporters and editors are rushed on deadline; they simply fail to double-check, the reporter misreads her notes. But many of these errors stem from Googling a name and taking the spelling—or historical fact—as gospel.”
Commenting on the error data, Brisbane wrote: “Speed has other ill effects. For journalists charged with feeding the digital news flow, life is a barely sustainable cycle of reporting, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and, in some cases, moderating the large volume of readers who comment online. I applaud these journalists for their commitment but worry that the requirements of the digital age are translating into more errors . . .”
I think there is very little doubt that the “requirements of the digital age are translating into more errors,” especially at media outlets that are much less diligent about policing accuracy than The Times—which is to say just about everywhere.
Is there a way to make sure that the speed at which journalists now have to work doesn’t kill you with reputation damaging errors when you are interviewed? While there are no guarantees, there are some techniques you can use to help reporters get it right:
• Slow down. When you are talking to a reporter and you come to a key idea or fact that you want to make sure he or she reports accurately, slow down your speech pattern a little bit to emphasize the key material, and set those key phrases off with a pause before and after. They don’t call it the “pause for effect” for nothing.
• Practice repetition. Take Winston Churchill’s advice. He said: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.” It’s very good advice. Repetition builds accurate retention.
• Review. Finally, don’t forget that you can ask the reporter to see the story, or check key quotes, before publication or broadcast. Many will refuse, but there are many media that support this practice.
In the end, accuracy is Job 1, and it’s everybody’s business.
Robert Geline is President of 144 Media LLC (www.144media.com), a New York consulting organization that specializes in media coaching, message strategy and presentation performance enhancement.144 Media clients benefit from Bob’s decade of coaching experience and his perspective as an Emmy-winning network journalist and former national newsmagazine correspondent and editor.