Is this resource reliable 2.0

Today I’m presenting a session about fact checking and verification at the ACES national conference in Providence, Rhode Island.

The 2.0 means it’s a continuation of a session from 2018, which was checking reliability for standard online information. 2.0 looks at things like photos, video, tweets and user-generated content.

As part of my “save a tree” stand, I’m presenting the handout here digitally. So if you’re there, don’t bother writing down those URLs.

It’s National Grammar Day!

After 35 years of editing and teaching editing, I can definitely tell you that grammar is important.

But I’m not sure I can say it any better than the National Council of Teachers of English has, so for National Grammar Day 2019, I’ll repeat what they’ve said.

“Why is grammar important?” The National Council of Teachers of English has a good answer:

“Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language. As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children — we can all do grammar. But to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences — that is knowing about grammar. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity,” according to the NCTE.

“People associate grammar with errors and correctness. But knowing about grammar also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.”

(And I say repeat, because I also shared this on this blog for National Grammar Day 2015.)

Editing beyond the red flags

I recently wrote an article for the ACES: The Society for Editing website on how to spot red flags in copy so you can most efficiently doing fact checking while editing.

One of the points is that certain things should raise red flags, such as:

  • A person’s name and address
  • Numbers, including dollar amounts and rankings
  • Data and polls, especially data that seems to be cherrypicked; look for the science behind a poll and its completeness
  • Inconsistency and repetition
  • Hearsay
  • Out-of-context examples and references
  • Information or visuals that don’t ring true or are meant to distract or misrepresent — in other words, something that triggers your “BS detector”
  • Innuendo
  • Biased sources
  • Absolutes — look for “the only,” “the best,” “the number one,” “highest,” or “worst” statements.

So when you see one of those red flags, what do you do?

Find that information yourself and see if it checks out. If you are editing something where the author links to information, check out that website and make sure it passes your credibility test. (Does the publisher seem credible? The author? Does the site look professional? Is it up to date? Is there any bias?)

Next find a second source for the same information. Very few things are only available from a primary source. But if you find a primary source (such as a public record), you will have more confidence in its credibility.

And go primary: Look for the original source of any information. Then look at the date of the original and make sure that information hasn’t changed in the interim.

My advice: check and recheck; see it twice before believing.

Why learn HTML ?

I teach a class call digital media tools and as part of that I go over basic coding.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not professional coder. I suspect that given a lot of time, I could coding a really cool website. But it would take a long time and there would be a whole lot of bad looks along the way.

But knowing coding isn’t just about being able to build your own website (when you can find easy to follow off the shelve website builders online). If you work in a job that uses any type of content management system, understanding coding will help you find the bugs on the website.

It’s the visual part of a copy editing job — let’s not just fix the misspellings and bad grammar, let’s fix the bad image breaks and lines of text that are too big or too small or too bold..

There are places you can start online. If you are a self-learner, try the W3 School. or Codeacademy.

What I really want to say is get out there and try. It’s a good project for the new year.

Revisiting the editing checklist

I’ve posted this before, but it gets lost among the other items and it’s a good thing to revisit frequently.

Get in the habit of using a checklist when you are editing. This one is geared toward news editing but works for all types of editing.

You may not actually check things off, but reviewing the list before each session of editing will help you remember the big and small things that are most likely to cause errors.



Critical editing

  1. Does the story make sense?
  2. Are all of the major questions answered?
  3. Is the story fair? Who or what might be missing?
  4. Is the background complete enough that all readers will have a sense of relevance?
  5. Are there any sensitivity issues in either individual word usage or description?
  6. Do links go to something that is relevant to the story and that answers the questions raised? Are the links from a trusted source of information? Are there any bias issues with the links?

Accuracy checks

  1. Are the names correct? Are they spelled the same in every instance? (Check against headlines, cutlines, other display text.)
  2. Are the ages and dates correct?
  3. Are the titles correct?— check for people, but also for businesses, institutions, books, works of art, etc.
  4. Are the locations, addresses correct?
  5. Did you check the phone numbers against directories or call the numbers?
  7. Did you check website URLs to make sure they work?
  8. Did you check the links to make sure they work?


Grammar and spelling

  1. Did you do a spell check. (1A: Have you checked the spelling of any foreign words.)
  2. Did you check major grammar points: subject-verb agreement, pronoun use, antecedents, parallel construction?
  3. Did you check word usage?


Display type

  1. Is the headline accurate and balanced?
  2. Have you checked the headline, cutlines and display type against the story copy?

What my Digital Media class is reading

Looking for a few articles that might up your digital media game. Here are a few I’m recommending to students in my Digital Media Tools class this semester:

How Americans Encounter, Recall and Act Upon Digital News (Pew) 

How to Choose a Social Media Management Tool 

How journalists can get started with coding (IJNet) 

How the News Industry’s Early Social Media Editors Moved Up the Ladder 

How an Early Social Media Editor Moved Up to VP at Time Inc.’s The Foundry 

Six podcasts journalists should know 

Notice that most of these headlines start with the word “how.” That means you might learn something!

College Media 17 presentations

I presented two sessions this week at the ACP/CMA 2017 Fall National Media Convention as a representative of the American Copy Editors Society. So, of course, the two sessions were on editing — Editing Your Own Work and Don’t Get Fooled: Spotting Red Flags and Bad Information.

It’s good to spread the word about the value of editing — even if I don’t think it’s a great idea for you to be the only editor of your own work. What is true is that we should all be our own first editor.

And we also should all be skeptical editors, which is what Don’t Get Fooled is about. It especially focuses on fact checking social media and user-generated information.

Here are links to PDFs of the slides for each presentation.



An old tale about the value of editing

When the ACES: The Society for Editing recently revamped its website (I’m the current website editor), we jettisoned a couple of platforms that we hadn’t been using in a while.

One was a separate site where board members used to blog about topics of interest to the editing community. (We basically folded everything together and then cleared out deadwood.)

The action of doing that forced me to read some things I’d written for ACES several years ago. I was reminded of one of those posts, from 2009, on Friday when I was reading  a Poynter story about New York Times copy editing cuts (New York Times editing cuts mean doing more with less. Will credibility suffer?).

It seems a lot of us in the editing business have been making the quality point for a number of years. Anecdotally, I notice more errors on many news websites, and it does make me doubt that organizatio’s commitment some. Of course, since I’m in the business, you’d expect me to say that. But research shows regular readers care, too.

Here’s what I wrote about editing and quality on July 22, 2009. (Reposted from the American Copy Editors Society — then, now

The cost of cutting the copy desk

For several years now, I’ve been hearing the warnings that one reason copy editing positions at news publications will be (and now are) taking a big hit is that the profession can’t quantify itself.

Or, to put it in today’s business parlance, we can’t monetize copy editing.

My argument has always been that copy editing is the quality control of the news business. A furniture maker won’t continue to sell chairs if no one is making sure the glue really sticks and the screws are tight. Same with newspapers — will people continue buying them if the names aren’t spelled correctly, the facts are wrong or the story on page 1A doesn’t really jump to 6A?

Unfortunately, that argument is lost on many in the Internet age, where speed trumps quality. Recently, however, I’ve read some articles that put some weight behind the quality-control argument.<!–more–>

The first was a July 5 column by Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander that got a lot of notice in journalism blogs and on Twitter. The title: “Fewer Copy Editors, More Errors.” 

The short version: Growing numbers of readers are contacting the Washington Post ombudsman to complain about typos and errors, which Alexander wrote “seem to have increased in recent months.”

Alexander defends the Post’s copy editors as among the best in the business, but notes “they’ve been badly depleted by staff cuts as the money-losing paper struggles to control costs.”

Among the most important messages I took from the column is that, yes, readers do notice the work of copy editors, even if they don’t know that’s what they are noticing.

It’s the quality control argument again. You risk losing readers when you cut quality control.

Add to that article this bit of research on newsroom cuts in general from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri: “Newsroom cuts are the most costly on revenues.”

The RJI article, “What Happens When Newspapers Cut Back on Marketing Investments? An Empirical Analysis,” notes that their research shows a 1 percent cut in newsroom expenditures led to a bigger drop in revenue and profits than an equal cut in sales force or distribution expenditures.

“When cutting costs, newsroom cuts are by far the most damaging to revenues – and the longer the reductions occur, the greater the acceleration of damage,” the authors wrote.

That seems to make sense, when news is the product. If fewer people pick up the paper because there is less news (fewer reporters) and what’s left isn’t as high in quality or is error-filled (fewer copy editors), won’t  loss of ads follow?

It’s just one thing for managers to think about as they look out at their much smaller newsrooms and wonder why circulation is dropping. The answer isn’t just about the free news on the Internet.

Editors: Understand how your website works

I ran across a headline today on a newspaper’s website that gave me pause — not because of what it said, but because of what it didn’t say.

It happened to be on the Des Moines Register’s website, but I don’t want to specifically diss them. I see this on lots of websites, particularly when I’m using my laptop and I’m reading a website that doesn’t use responsive design.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 11.05.02 AM This was a the top of the Register’s desktop website today. If you know even a little bit about how websites work, you can tell that there’s more to the headline of the first story on the list. But the content management system apparently limits the characters displayed in this home page position, so the entire headline doesn’t appear.

Of course, as a reader, it made me wonder. What is it that I can sell that’s now official?

One way to look at this is that perhaps the missing word will make people curious and they’ll click. But I think it’s equally likely that someone who would have read the story based on the “what” is just going to pass it by because they’re missing that keyword.

Being aware of this issue, and how to fix it, is part of the copy editor’s job of being an advocate for the reader.

I admit I clicked on the story, but only because I saw it and thought, “great fodder for my editing class.”

(You can see the same issue on the VIDEO story.)

The screenshot below is from the Register’s mobile site. It fills in the missing words.


I don’t know what the Register’s CMS is like. But I know many allow for different mobile and desktop headlines. And even if they don’t, if you take “It’s official” off that headline, the word “fireworks” will fit on desktop and the headline still tells readers what they need (and what) to know.

I tell editing students to check the website after they post, to check what the reader’s experience is going to be. There are equal issues with a wide two-line headline on a desktop site that collapses down to a 6-line headline on a responsive mobile site. The information might be there, but the aesthetics aren’t pleasing, and that also might keep people from reading.

Good headline writing is still an art that has structure. Just because online you don’t have to worry about what will fit in a 1 column, 3 deck, 60 point headline doesn’t mean you should abandon good form.