Top 13 Reasons Journalists Screw Up Their Stories

Over the past month, my magical mystery tour of collegemediatopia’s best and brashest conferences has led me to Seattle, New York and, most recently, Gainesville, Fla. At yesterday’s Region 3 Society of Professional Journalists Conference — held at the University of Florida — a bevy of entertaining presenters educated student and adviser attendees about all manner of journalistic greatness and ills.

A morning session, led by UF master lecturer (actual job title) Mike Foley, sought to help students stave off the most horrible creature in all of news media: the correction. He specifically shared the top reasons journalists make mistakes in their copy.

Below is a brief highlight reel of what he laid out, along with a few reasons I nominate as (cringe)worthy additions to the list. Enjoy.

Journalists Most Often Screw Up Their Stories Because…

1) They work from memory.

2) They make assumptions.

3) They deal with secondhand sources.

4) They become scatterbrained from the warp speed at which they are attempting to publish.

5) They rely upon bad sources, including those who fall into categories such as spinners, incompetents, attention-seekers, and bad memory fiends.

6) They blindly trust emails, tweets and online story comments.

7) They re-quote info from other news sources without independent verification.

What I’d add to the list…

8) They let their impassioned desire for a great story blind them to factual snafus.  (See Mike Daisey.)

9) They lack understanding about an individual or topic — through either ignorance of laziness.  (For example, see parachute journalism.)

10) They are bad at the writing part.  (Having the facts is irrelevant if you cannot explain them clearly and correctly.)

11) They do not listen to their gut/the voice inside their head telling them something is off, too good to be true or needs another go-round on the fact-checking carousel.

12) They do not want to impose on their sources by calling them back to double-check something, a sudden cowardice I’ve especially seen play out on weekends, holidays and late nights.  (Note to student journos: Toughen up. Make the call. A source might be slightly annoyed at the unexpected imposition, but they’ll be more annoyed that something wrong about them is appearing online/in print.)

13) Once their pieces are published, they do not scan the related online comments, which at times point out grammar and factual slips.

What other reasons should be included on this list???

Comments
11 Responses to “Top 13 Reasons Journalists Screw Up Their Stories”
  1. carolinesf says:

    Journalists believe that no sources dare lie to them, send them false information in a press release or give them false statistics. (As a critic of the currently faddish brand of “education reform,” whose proponents do all these things regularly and laugh at the press’ gullibility, I can only roll my eyes.)

    Journalists unknowingly accept the “sphere of consensus” and “sphere of deviance,” as described here by NYU Prof. Jay Rosen.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-rosen/audience-atomization-over_b_157807.html

    Journalists believe that they’re sharp-eyed, critical skeptics, while too often failing to question claims of miracles.

  2. Fred Glienna says:

    Very often journalists do not notice they’ve internalized the value systems of their corporate publishers, and consequently do no even sense that they’ve introduced a deadly bias OR failed to see a wider field of view.

  3. Mike says:

    They don’t go back to their boss and say, “There’s no story here” (or their boss doesn’t listen when they do).
    They work on a story for days, but don’t seek reponse comment until the last minute.

  4. Ben says:

    We know such much we get confused as to what goes where. Seriously. How many people do you know who can talk intelligently about zoning, building inspections, the state’s open records law, what constitutes a felony, how a will is probated, every high school sport, chemistry, what a CDBG is, paving contracts, Photoshop shortcuts, all the major religions AND still keep track of what’s on the agenda for the County Commission, School Board and three City Council meetings?

  5. Wesley Muller says:

    As a cops reporter, I honestly haven’t had to write many corrections in which the mistake was mine. Nine times out of 10, corrections stem from an official (usually a police chief, lead investigator or district attorney) actually giving me wrong information that he/she did not know was inaccurate.

    I’ve received phone calls from crime victims who’ve given me accounts that differed greatly from what the police gave. The usual culprit for the snafu is a cop who writes a terrible incident report.

  6. kurmanath says:

    driven by TV scrolls that are largely based on heresy, unnamed-unreliable sources.

  7. old journo says:

    Pity how few showed up for the talk. Arrogance and cluelessness can be added to the list.

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