Re-blogged from my advanced reporting class blog.
Last week, I had a correction on my story about The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s new endowment.
It wasn’t because I misspelled or a name or forgot to check a figure; it happened because I was tired, overly familiar with the copy and just plain seeing what I wanted to see. It was late, I worked all day, and I missed it. I take full responsibility for the error.
To elaborate a little, I misconstrued exactly how RJI’s usable funds would be culled from the entire investment it was endowed with, something that as an economics major, I do actually understand the mechanics of. But at that time in that place in that frame of mind, it just didn’t hit home.
And I do feel bad about it. I hate letting my editor down and causing confusion for my readers. I always read and re-read and re-read again, but clearly, that sentence just wasn’t going to catch my eye that night, even as I explained it just fine in words to a number of people and sources. (This is why it’s so important to have excellent copy editors and section editors like we do at the Missourian. They aren’t expendable. But that’s a rant for another day.)
How do I make sure this kind of mistake doesn’t happen again? Going forward, I’m going to take even more time slogging through explanations of an economic nature. I’m going to pay more attention to how I use language to portray math processes, and I’m going to be more clear about what I mean rather than rely on semi-jargon to get an idea across.
I’m never going to stop being diligent about my copy. But I’m also never going to stop being human. And humans make mistakes. Agonizing over the correction will not make me a better journalist. It will not help me do my job faster or more efficiently, and it won’t make me a better all-around reporter.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t learned from each correction I’ve gotten. I don’t speed through copy like I did as a new reporter, I always read over and over, and I read once a story is published, too. I double-check every proper noun and specific figure. I go back to check quotes against my notes and with my sources.
But at times, things slip through, despite even my best efforts. I don’t let that initial stomach-plummeting email or phone call ruin the zeal and enthusiasm I have for this job. If I did, it would paralyze me. It’s impossible to learn when you’re paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake.
If I let each mistake chip away at my confidence and love for reporting, I think I’d be less of a journalist and less of a person. With mistakes come learning, and with learning comes growth. Hopefully my experiences can be a lesson to those I work with, and we can all progress that much more.
If journalism was supposed to be perfect, it’d be practiced by robots. But it’s not. It takes a human touch and a human understanding to tell a story, explain a complex issue and write with literary grace. As much as we hate mistakes, many of them can be fixed. If we are transparent with our audience about our correction process and why a mistake was made, and if we are diligent about having many eyes on every piece of copy, I don’t think we’ll be worse off in the long run.
***Note: In no way is this post supposed to encourage complacency about accuracy. Some errors can’t be brushed off or moved past so quickly, or even at all. My point was to craft a message to keep myself, and my peers, from freezing after small, easily-rectifiable mistakes. We’re still learning, and part of that is learning how to ensure we practice verification so errors eventually don’t happen.