With any human endeavor, there’s potential for error. While it is the responsibility of journalists and news organizations to deliver accurate and fair reporting, consumers should never assume that everything presented before them is the complete and final word.
To avoid common mistakes, newsrooms often use accuracy checklists to remind their reporters of best practices for verification. (You can reference these checklists in Kovach and Rosenstiel’s Elements of Journalism.) But the job of ensuring accuracy does not fall entirely on a single reporter as news organizations typically require a story to go through multiple layers of editing and verification before it is published.
As part of this news literacy course, we read about the editorial gatekeepers at CNN called “The Row.” The entire team of editors and researchers works together to vet stories and support correspondents in their pursuit of presenting the most factual information to the public.
A quick online job search for a CNN researcher describes a typical day working on this team: “The Row will vet dozens of pieces, for TV and digital platforms, including everything from a reporter package on flooding in Omaha to a digital write on a terror investigation to a digital video on the latest mobile device.”
News outlets strive to protect their brand’s reputation and mitigate legal risk. Having worked at ABC News, I can attest to a vetting process similar to CNN’s. While each show under the ABC News umbrella has their own verification system, 20/20 producers must submit scripts and segment screeners to the legal team, the rights and clearances group, and senior producers to review and approve before they go on air.
It takes a village to get it right, and even with all those backstops, news organizations sometimes still make mistakes, and stories are retracted, revised and corrected. Handling those mistakes with humility and transparency distinguishes news brands from their competitors and hopefully keeps their audiences coming back.
As we learned early on in this semester, the spectrum of news sources is wide and only growing wider as more people turn to social media for news. To grow their audience and increase engagement, social media managers now promote stories with clever posts across all the major platforms. The sheer volume of this creates a great deal of strain on those editorial gatekeepers and can result in more errors falling through the cracks.
This is the new reality of the digital age, and news consumers must understand that journalism is a process that continues to be adapted and refined as media consumption shifts. Errors made in good faith do not make a news organization wholly unreliable, but they do shift the responsibility to news consumers to seek out multiple viewpoints, never relying on just one source, even a well-established one.