Aiming for Accuracy

As another education reporter, Caroline, and I prepared to cover our first Faculty Council meeting for the Columbia Missourian, our editor said one thing: “This story has to be completely accurate.”

I’ve always been a stickler for accuracy. Maybe it’s because I was misquoted every time I was featured in my high school’s newspaper. Maybe it’s because people would complain about being misquoted in my high school’s yearbook. Maybe it’s because some responses to announcing I’m a journalism major sound something like, “Ha, journalists don’t get anything right anymore.” But because of these experiences and my adherence to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, accuracy has always been a top priority.

We’d been told previous Faculty Council writers have had their share of corrections, particularly concerning the controversial University of Missouri Press situation this past fall. As I did background research on MU’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute controversy — what was sure to be a hot topic at the meeting — I looked for instances of inconsistency and at specific words used. As a copy chief, I learned the power of word choice and how words can provide various, and sometimes incorrect, connotations.

Sure enough, Faculty Council members became more passionate about the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute than the other items on the agenda. Opposing views didn’t agree on what had transpired, causing the discussion to become heated. My co-writer and I frantically scribbled notes during the exchange, and though we were careful to use exact terminology, we spent a substantial amount of time after the meeting listening to sources clarify in accuracy checks every point made during the meeting.

Leaving with a bit of an information overload, we raced back to the Missourian newsroom to begin writing the story on Google Docs. After we (with a lot of help from our assistant city editor, Zach) decided the most important parts of the meeting to share with our readers (yes, Zach, I now see why GAANNs didn’t make the cut), the three of us spent a long time discussing word choice. We didn’t feel comfortable using various words because of connotations they gave. We argued about how to best phrase how events transpired to stay exactly true to what had been confirmed in accuracy checks. We checked and double-checked every name used, every program mentioned and every previous Missourian article used for background information. We wanted our story to be accurate, no matter how long the editing process took.

After our article was posted online, the most beautiful sound of silence followed. No errors were to be found, and in my opinion, we did a good job of balancing both controversial (and fairly conflicting) sides. The care we’d taken (and the stress we’d experienced) in writing this article, though we were racing the deadline clock, had paid off, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Accuracy is of the utmost importance in every article, and journalists should always take the time to ensure it in their work to the best of their ability.

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