As a newsroom, we are producing more content than we ever have and that can be overwhelming.
But, we also know we have to do the things on this list, and more. If they aren't done, stories aren't ready for broadcast or posting and must be held:
- Get the other side. If people are accused of something, or their actions are described by someone else or words are attributed to them, we have to talk to them. If they're dead or otherwise unavailable, find other ways to check out the story. Remember, no one gets to take a free shot at someone else. Related note: Give people a reasonable amount of time to get back to you. What's reasonable? It depends. Consult with the Deputy Managing Editors or Standards & Practices editor.
- Be skeptical. "That's what he said happened" isn't good enough. Talk to other witnesses. Truth-squad the story. Can they prove they were where they say they were? Are there police records? If a full moon is a key part of their tale, was the moon actually full that night? Does their version of the timeline make sense? Bottom line: If the details don't add up, the story may not either.
- Go to the records. Lawsuits. Police reports. Bankruptcy filings. Real estate sales. Divorce proceedings. If a story depends on someone's credibility, check that person's background. Read those records and talk to our colleagues in Legal early in the reporting. Show them what you found. They are here to help.
- Speaking of the Legal team ... Documents turned up during background checks aren't the only things we should talk to Legal about. If a story involves legal documents, legal proceedings, legal charges, accusations of wrongdoing, private facts or any of the other things that might drag you and NPR into court, get our Legal team involved. See the Standards & Practices editor or a Deputy Managing Editor to make that happen.
- Confirm and reconfirm. We don't share our stories with sources before publication or broadcast. But if we have any doubts, we do call them back or check via email to make sure we understand what they told us. And if it's been more than a couple weeks since we spoke to them, we call them back regardless. First, it's a courtesy to let them know the story's ready. Second, it's a chance to ask "has anything changed?"
- Use the NPR Accuracy Checklist. We made a list of 13 things that must be double- or triple-checked for one important reason: we get them wrong too often. If you use the list you will get those things right almost all the time (we say "almost" because not doing so would be akin to stating a superlative and superlatives are on the list of things we should almost never use). Print it out and put it by your keyboard. Or stop by the Standards & Practices desk. We've got a few hundred 3×5 versions.
Three more thoughts:
- There's always time to get things right.
- You'll save time in the long run, because it almost always takes longer to fix mistakes than it does to prevent them.
- If you're feeling like there's too much on your plate to give an edit your absolute and undivided attention, talk to your manager. Your load and reality checks are OK to flag.
Thanks to Pallavi Gogoi for her help identifying these must-do's.