Perspective, accountability, and the real world

Perspective!

That’s a term we need to become familiar with as journalists. It’s serious business, but sometimes we need to laugh at ourselves a little when we make mistakes – as long as we maintain perspective. Offering perspective and context when reporting the news and fostering public discussion is one of the most important services we offer to our audience as professional journalists.

Sometimes, accidentally flipping letters in a word can be funny. But it should ALWAYS be embarrassing. Other times, typos can result in offending our audience and eroding our credibility as messengers of the news. So, again – perspective.

In class Wednesday, after emphasizing that I will be paying attention to grammar and spelling in your captions for this class, it was pointed out that I misspelled the word “multimedia” (mulitmedia?) in one of my presentation slides.

What goes around, comes around, eh?

Just so you know, I am not above accountability. I have certain expectations of you, as students. But I also expect to be held accountable by you. That’s how this works. My role as educator and journalist requires accountability.

Ultimately, accountability is a conversation, not simply a list of rules to follow. The fact is, we are all human beings, and we all make mistakes.

How you address mistakes and avoid future mistakes determines how accountable – and how credible – you might be perceived.

Know this: there are “grammar Nazis” out there, who will write disparaging letters and internet comments for every perceived mistake. Often, these people have little knowledge of AP Style and how it might differ from, say, Oxford English. (Just google “Oxford comma” and you will see how contentious it can be!)

What we really need to be mindful of and avoid is factual errors, and spelling counts.

One of the best ways to avoid errors is to get as many eyeballs on your work as possible before publication.

It has often been said that the worst editor in the world is yourself! You have too much emotional connection to your own work to make objective observations about it. Or you might simply have eye fatigue, or you are rushed and don’t have time to double-check your work. None of those things are an acceptable excuse to the public we serve, however.

One reason the new business has taken a credibility hit is that – when newsrooms are downsized because of falling revenue – copy editors and fact-checkers are often among the first to go. In the past, text has been reviewed by 3 or 4 sets of eyeballs – at least – before being published. Nowadays, text might be reviewed by the writer – him or herself – and possibly one more editor, who’s often designing print or web pages at the same time. And, unfortunately, sometimes text (particularly photo captions) is simply copied and pasted with no review at all. It’s just the economic reality of the news biz, these days.

So make sure you get it right! Employ some help, even if you have to get a friend or a roommate to quickly read over your captions. It helps. Trust me!

In the end, the public we serve doesn’t really care how mistakes were made. And remember THAT’S who we ultimately work for, and who we are ultimately accountable to.

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