Week3: To an Editor, Skepticism is a Virtue

1 Feb

Thibodaux –alt024@ufl.edu

The importance of skeptical editing is paramount when considering the eagle story and “Jimmy’s World.”  But these are just two of an endless amount of examples that makes us realize certain stories simply shouldn’t hit the presses.  At times it can be difficult to check all the facts of every story as an editor.  But if an editor establishes a built-in alarm that goes off every time something doesn’t look right, then he or she will be much better equipped to spot potential fact errors.

In the article “Skeptical Editing” by  Reid MacCluggage, he says, “Our biggest weakness is not the occasional dishonest reporter. Our biggest weakness is unchallenged information.”  This sheds a new light on the editing profession.  It is the editor’s job to challenge each and every story that comes across the desk.  If the story isn’t read with a skeptical eye, then the editor has failed not only the reporter, but the entire publication.  Dishonest reporters will always exist as long as news exists.  That is impossible to change.  Therefore, editors have got to spot them early and weed them out. 

Another concept that I found interesting from MaCluggage’s article was the idea of having a different person every week play the devil’s advocate in the newsroom.  Sometimes people shy away from honestly critiquing a story because of the pressure of having to expose flaws in someone else’s work.  But appointing a specific editor to the job helps take that pressure away.  It allows the editor to “cross-examine” the story from beginning to end, and holds it to the highest standards of truth.

The fact is that not every mistake is going to be caught in every article written for every publication out there.  Mistakes will happen.  However, editors can learn how to become better by applying a set of rules to everything they read.  Pam Nelson, who is a grammar blogger, produces a  Grammar Guide that is a great source for people in the journalism business.  She is a seasoned editor who has taken her experience and created a list of 10 things that should always be double-checked.  Although all 10 points are important, what resonated with me was her point on checking the arithmetic in all articles.  Math can be a troublesome area for journalists, so I think this is significant.  Not only is it an embarrassment to the publication when the math is done incorrectly, it also makes the journalist look somewhat uneducated. 

I think that the most important lesson to take away from this week’s discussions is to not trust anything you read until it has been fact-checked.  We as journalists and editors need to develop a keen eye and a sense of what is true and what seems a little off.  This takes experience, of course, but it can also be self-taught to a certain degree.  Recognizing errors in other people’s writing is essential to being a successful editor.


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