Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Trust what you publish, what you read

By · Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Skeptical about anything these days?

It’s not enough for stories to be complete and clear. They also must be free of faults and shortcomings.

The best way to look for these — whether you are a journalist or a reader — is to apply methodical scrutiny to a story by asking questions.

We have relied over the years on a list of questions created by Reid MacCluggage, who began his career at the Hartford Courant. (He is a retired president, publisher and editor of The Day Publishing Company in New London, Connecticut, and former national president of Associated Press Managing Editors.)

Here are 10 typical questions you can ask as you read:

  1. Says who? If attribution is needed, is it clear?
  2. How does the source know this? Why does the source know this? This gets to what makes an expert an expert.
  3. Are the people we are quoting eyewitnesses, or are they repeating what someone else told them?
  4. What is the source’s motivation? Is it transparent?
  5. How do we know that? If statements need to be checked, have they been? Are we accepting something as true when we should be checking further, or at least applying a qualifier?
  6. Did we see information ourselves, or read this ourselves? This comes down to how much we are relying on someone else, who that someone is, and how clear we are about that to our readers.
  7. Did we check these numbers? Did we do the math? Do numbers add up? Where did they come from?
  8. Is there anyone who disagrees with this? Are there “givens” that should be challenged, or could be challenged?
  9. Are these generalizations supported? Or is this stated as a fact that we are asked to accept on faith?
  10. Who else could confirm this? Is vital information based on the account or telling of a single person or document?

If you’re a journalist, asking these questions can help in publishing a top-notch piece. If you’re a reader, asking these questions can leave you confident about what you’re reading or better equipped to find a better story.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

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