Archives for posts with tag: standdown for accuracy

Like many publications, the Missourian requires its reporters to mark certain facts with the letters “CQ”* in notes mode to denote that the fact has been verified. What exactly we CQ and how we do the verification are being considered by Tom now, but I thought I would share the CQ policy that I enforced at The Wichita Eagle when I was the copy desk chief there.

In Wichita, we emphasized to reporters and line editors that CQ represented a contract of sorts, a certification that the fact in question has been specifically and deliberately verified. A CQ by a name means that the writer specifically verified the spelling of the name with the source. A CQ by a phone number means that the writer actually called the number to verify that it was correct.

On the copy desk, we treated CQ with a healthy dose of skepticism. We would routinely challenge suspect CQs and spot-check many of them — phone numbers and Web addresses especially. When we found a CQ’d item that was incorrect, word went back to the reporter, his editor and the managing editor about the problem. Disciplinary steps were taken with writers who had chronic problems with CQ’d errors.

What did we CQ? Here’s the list:

  • Most proper names. Very routine names, such as the mayor’s, wouldn’t necessarily require a CQ, but any unfamiliar name would, and even familiar names would if they were tricky.
  • Phone numbers. A CQ by a phone number meant that the reporter actually called the number to test it.
  • Web addresses. A CQ here meant that the reporter copied the address from the story and tested it in a Web browser.
  • E-mail addresses. A CQ here meant that the reporter had sent a test e-mail to the address and that the e-mail hadn’t bounced back.
  • Any correct but strange fact. The reporter is acknowledging that something that looks wrong is, in fact, right and that he or she has carefullly and specifically verified this.

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* My very limited research suggests that “cq” stands for cadit quaestio, Latin for “the question falls.” It’s also a legal term indicating that an argument has been resolved or a case has been settled. I’ve heard others insist that “cq” stands for “correct but queer” or “checqued.”

The estimable John McIntyre, night editor at The Baltimore Sun, has a post on his blog today that very much fits in with the theme of the Standdown for Accuracy and the discussion at this morning’s Missourian budget meeting. Here’s a snippet:

… the editor is trammeled by the limitations of his or her skills. That is why it is essential for you, if you work as an editor, to be honest and clear-headed about your own defects as a craftsman.

If, for example, you tend to go too fast and miss details, you will need to find some way to compensate, perhaps by requiring one or two additional readings before letting go of the text. Or if your tendency is to edit too slowly, perhaps you need to set yourself a deadline for each text you pick up.

You should read the whole thing.

The Washington Post this month entered the arena of crowdsourcing accuracy — and in a big way.

Like the Missourian’s “Show Me the Errors,” the Post has reached out to its readers by asking for fixes. Every article includes a box that says: “Corrections? Suggestions?”

It’s more work to report an error. At the Missourian, you fill in the box and send (if you’re registered). At the Post, the linked page asks you to copy and paste in the URL of the article. You also must check one box for the section the story ran in and another for the kind of mistake: factual, grammatical, punctuation or spelling.

Then you can describe the error.

That’s the awkward part.

The cool part — the one we should consider at the Missourian — asks:

“What do we need to know to improve future stories on this topic?”

Well, that’s just great.

I wouldn’t want to clutter up the Missourian article page much more. Perhaps, though, it could be an invitation added somewhere else (on the “Preview Correction” page?)

What’s so swell about it? To me, it feels more like an invitation to describe the parts that aren’t wrong but aren’t in the article at all — to get at those things that are accurate but incomplete.

Matt DiRienzo of The Register Citizen in Connecticut said these errors of omission are far more extensive. “We don’t go deep enough into a story, or we miss pieces of information and perspective that would change readers’ perception of an issue.” His newspaper also was one of the first to crowdsource corrections.

But wait. There’s more at the Post.

DiRienzo says the paper may be building a new Rolodex of sources:

The Washington Post corrections/fact check page even has a “yes/no” opt-in to the question, “Would you be willing to help with other stories?”, suggesting that the paper is building a foundation for future crowdsourcing efforts, perhaps by specific topic.

This is a huge symbolic shift, I hope, away from the “fortress journalism” that traditional media has clung to even as the web and social media have completely changed the audience dynamic out from under them.

I’m sure there are other examples out there. Show Me the Errors has been a great success since its launch last semester. (It was first formally proposed by a team of students in the Journalism & Democracy course.)

How can we make it even better?

A standdown, in military terms, traditionally meant a work stoppage — an agreement to stop fighting over Christmas, say. Various dictionaries describe “a relaxation” in action.

It sounds like an oxymoron when it comes to accuracy.

After all, you never want to let down your guard when it comes to that, right?

The idea is to pause, to relax, when it comes to everything else so that you can concentrate on learning the ways we can all become more accurate in everything we publish.

That’s why in every class, every beat meeting, every critique and every morning budget meeting this week, we’ll spend at least a portion of the time devoted to the topic.

It’s not enough to say: Do better. Be more accurate. Pay attention.

This isn’t about taking anyone to the woodshed.

We want to concentrate on routines and techniques that make us better.

At the editors’ coffee last week, lots of little things came up just in talking about whether to call this standdown.

For instance: If you click on ”print no notes” in Django, you can pick up on things like extra spaces or words without them. Some editors (me) didn’t know that.

(In general, reading in a different font, or different point size, is always a good tip. It forces your eyes to see the same thing you’ve been staring at for hours in a different way.)

So we’re looking at 10 ways, or a hundred, to get better.

In the military, a standdown is as much about trading stories among colleagues as it is about any edicts from above. This worked for me; that other thing I tried was a big mistake.

Don’t just look to your editor-professors this week. Lean across your desk to the person across from it. Take a friend to coffee. Take someone you don’t know, too.

In fact, the only edict is that we talk with each other.