Sometimes an editor must look beyond the obvious to catch a story’s flaws.
But when a story is written well with compelling details and an interesting voice, those flaws aren’t obvious, and even a normally-skeptical editor can pass by the signs. A good example is Janet Cooke’s “Jimmy’s World.”
“Jimmy’s World” was well-written, and Cooke had a good track record at the Washington Post, so the editors let their guards down and published her story despite its inconsistencies. There are outstanding fiction writers who are capable of writing belivable, yet fake stories, and sometimes they make their way into newsrooms.
A fake story full of good news that’s an interesting read can be tempting to publish, and it takes a skeptical, aware editor to spot the inconsistencies that are sure to arise from a story that isn’t completely factual. Point number two on a list of seven questions editors should ask of every story actually includes, “Look for holes in the story and for things readers might not understand,” when examining the details of the story.
Because fictictious news stories seem to be published fairly often, not only should editors be skeptical and aware of the holes a story may contain, but editors should also challenge the information presented by the writer. If writers can back the information they’ve written in their stories, then editors can confidently back them should an issue arise after the story is published.
But if the information is published unchallenged, how can an editor, without doubt, stand behind a writer?
Fact checking goes beyond recalculating a writer’s math, spelling and dates, though. It involves critical thinking on the editor’s part so that the right questions get answered, the correct facts are obtained and the accurate issues are uncovered, according to “Skeptical Editing.”
Lastly, the ability to post news instantly creates a greater need for information to be correct the first time around.
Information is constantly republished on blogs, websites and social media profiles. There’s no guarantee that those writers will see news corrections or correct what they posted even they do learn it’s false.