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Bulletproofing your stories Jaimi Dowdell IRE and NICAR.

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Presentation on theme: "Bulletproofing your stories Jaimi Dowdell IRE and NICAR."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bulletproofing your stories Jaimi Dowdell IRE and NICAR

2 Mistakes happen…

3 2009 Correction of the Year A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

4 Denver Post: Because of a reporters error, Bill Husteds column on Page 3B on Sunday contained an item about a tombstone for Elway the Drug Sniffing Dog. The tombstone was digitally fabricated for a blog and does not exist. Source:

5 Los Angeles Times: Bear sighting: An item in the National Briefing in Sundays Section A said a bear wandered into a grocery story in Hayward, Wis., on Friday and headed for the beer cooler. It was Thursday. Source:

6 New York Times: Correction: December 8, 2009 An article on Nov. 27 about the race to succeed Senator Edward M. Kennedy gave an incorrect location for a debate involving the Democratic candidates. It was at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum not the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, which has yet to be built. Source:

7 Source: January 8, 2010


9 …But they can be prevented.

10 Reporting process Always think Repeatedly ask yourself, Does this make sense? Background, background, background. Develop a system to use and keep notes – stick to it. Never worry youre being a pest – its more important to get it right.

11 Think data Think documents Chronologies can help you spot issues Dont assume things If theres any question, double check

12 Communicate Talk to your editor/producer Make sure everyone is in the loop and knows whats coming (photo, graphics, etc.) Work with sources –Dont be afraid to ask them to rephrase or further explain –Share key findings of data analysis –Dont save key interviews for the end

13 Got data? Data is a great way to add authority and information to your story It can also lead to enterprise stories Tools of data: spreadsheets, databases, mapping and more.

14 Data dangers Richmond Times-Dispatch retraction in January 2009 of foreclosure analysis, which was missing HALF the data. I should have asked the state Supreme Court how many transactions each file contained. I should have opened each file before importing it to see how many transactions it contained. I should have stepped through the first transaction of each file to make sure it matched the map of how the data should have been mapped. Finally, I should have sent a copy of the final spreadsheets to the finance departments in Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield -- the biggest governmental units in our region -- to get feedback from folks knowledgeable about property transactions in their areas.

15 Things to keep in mind when working with data Record counts Documentation and codes Does it make sense? Double check totals (think web sites, ask the agency for totals or sample records) If you get an amazing analysis, look first to see if youve made a mistake. Look again

16 Repeat analysis if time Check in with experts before, during and after analysis Dont be afraid to share results with sources before the story runs What is missing can be just as important as what is there

17 Writing and editing process Be your own worst critic Poke holes into all of your theories Anticipate all criticisms of your story and defeat them before they happen Always think Ask yourself if it makes sense? Keep track of the documents and data you use.

18 Dont be afraid to revisit a source. Use the highlighter or footnote method. Feel free to go over things with sources before it runs (not give them a copy, but discuss the ideas, etc.) Always read your story with fresh eyes. Have your colleagues and friends read your story. Be open to their criticism.

19 Resources Tipsheets – and search for bulletproofing accuracy checklist – better yet, develop your own.accuracy checklist

20 Thanks to: for tracking all of those mistakes. Doug Haddix, IRE Training Director Feel free to contact me at

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