Taking the time to get it right

How important is accuracy?

My grammar nerd friends may disown me, but I rate my tasks as a copy editor in this order: ensure accuracy, ensure clarity, fix the grammar and spelling.

So when someone told me today that doing fact checks wasn’t a role for copy editors anymore in the new media word, I cringed. The speaker was lamenting the fact that there was no time or resources anymore to check  facts. I argued that you need to take the time.

If I see a figure in a story I’m editing, how much time will it take me to find the source document and check that the figure is accurate? (There’s no one answer to the question, but when it comes to government documents, many are easily found on the Internet. And a call to the reporter can get you what you need as well.)

How much longer — and how much more damaging for my publication’s reputation — is it for me to skip the five-minute online accuracy check and just let it go, hoping the reporter meant $100 billion and not $10 billion or even $100 million?

That’s why I teach my students to raise red flags about certain things: figures, quotes taken from other sources, addresses and phone numbers, links in stories are among the red flags. These are all fairly easy to check and doing that check should be on the list of things a copy editor does when working on a story.

As copy editors, we should all make the time to be skeptical.



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