Instant recall is a tricky undertaking

By · Monday, September 11th, 2017

IMG_0647In a visual exercise the other day to demonstrate how editors must be mindful of a variety of issues in a story, I donned two different earrings (usually, I wear none); a pin with three snowmen (it’s September); my jacket backward (on only one arm) and a sock (on my other arm).

When students returned from their 10-minute break, I was ready. They took one look at me and, of course, they were curious. So I reminded them what we’d been talking about before break and asked them what all of this might represent. They told me:

All true.

I put myself back together and class resumed.

Next class, I decided to test their recall. So on their current events quiz, I included an “instant recall” question that asked in T/F style: “The sock prof emilie wore on her arm had pink/orange polka dots.”

Our practice is to go over quizzes after they are taken, so when we got to this question, students called out their answers:

The answer was “false,” I told them. The sock actually had pink and orange stripes, with maybe some aqua.

Hmmm … when I got home that day and was taking the sock out of my bag, wasn’t I surprised. No polka dots, true. But argyle? Oh, yes. One of the students had recalled correctly that the sock had argyle. My own sock, and I had gotten it wrong.

Instant recall can be tricky. Detectives know it. Investigators know it. Anyone who deals with witnesses knows it.

We don’t always register what we see. We don’t always correctly recall what we see. We don’t always agree on what we see — even when we see the same thing at the same time.

Editors are trained to “see” errors that lurk in stories because they are trained how to find them. That includes, as the students had said: inconsistencies, inaccuracies, inappropriate content. They are trained to find the primary source of information and to trust the primary source.

Well, now they know even the primary source can be wrong. That’s OK. They are trained to “see” errors, and they will come to see that, too.

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