Accuracy Checklist for Journalists

by June 21, 2017
Fewer editors in the newsroom mean that reporters have to step up their self-editing game. (Image from "3844328" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

Fewer editors in the newsroom mean that reporters have to step up their self-editing game. This accuracy checklist should help. (Image from “3844328” via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

Fewer copy editors in the newsroom—in fact, fewer editors in general—means that reporters must increasingly perform that function themselves. Before submitting a story or hitting “publish” on a website’s CMS, take an additional 15 minutes to review your work for accuracy. You’ll save yourself the embarrassment of writing a correction the next day.

Facts

Check these first three items while your story is on the screen:

1. Review spell-check suggestions and correct any actual errors.

2. Click links.

3. Call phone numbers.

Use a printout of the story for the remaining checks: 

Put a ruler under each line as you read the text.  Underline every fact, and then double-check each one, including:

• Names and titles of people, places and companies – Also, does each second reference (Jones) have a first reference (Mary Jones)?

• Numbers and calculationsDo the numbers add up? Is it millions or billions? Are the percentages correct?

• Dates and ages – Watch references to “next month/last month” when the month is changing.

• Quotes – Are quotes accurate and properly attributed? Have you fully captured what each person meant?

• Superlatives – What’s your source that something is the biggest, oldest, etc.

Grammar

Check each sentence for correct use of:

Subject-verb agreementAlso, are you consistent in your use of either the present or the past tense to tell the story?

Pronoun-noun agreement.

Plurals and possessives.

Punctuation.

Spelling

Read the story backwards, checking the spelling of each word. Here’s a dictionary.

Fairness and context 

TermsDefine or eliminate unfamiliar terms, such as acronyms and jargon.

FairnessHave all stakeholders been contacted and given a chance to talk?

Missing Does the story leave any important questions unanswered?

ContextDoes the reader have the context to understand the story?

 Your own common errors
• ____________________________________________________________
• ____________________________________________________________
 Final checks

 Read the story aloud.

Have someone else read it.

Accompanying elementsRun the previous checks on the story’s headlines, cutlines, sidebars, photos, graphics, videos and podcasts. Check for inconsistencies.

 Thanks to these sources for inspiring this checklist:

Steve Buttry’s Accuracy Checklist

Detroit Free Press Accuracy Checklist

Daphne Gray-Grant’s “Preventing goof-ups: 10 proofreading tips”

The New York Times’ “The Reader’s Lament”