To ensure accuracy, we implemented the following editing process on September 11, 2010:
Meet with any reporter who commits an error to deconstruct precisely how the error was committed and discuss how the reporter will prevent that kind of mistake from happening again.
Require reporters to submit all notes, documents and interviews when they submit their draft. Notes that pertain to specific facts, quotations and statements that are in the story will be underlined or highlighted.
Continue our in-house footnote requirement. This policy has been in effect since our first project, which was published on May 29. It requires the reporter to submit two versions – one version proposed for publication and one with the footnotes. Each note contains the source for the fact with all pertinent information needed to allow the editor to find it, dates of interviews with notebook page numbers where the quotation is located. The footnotes for human sources also must contain their contact information.
Although we have always required reporters to conduct line-by-line fact checks before submitting a draft and again after the final editing, I have failed to adequately explain what I mean by that. Henceforth, it means using a printed copy of their story to circle every fact and quote in every line, and then going back to their notes, records and documents to identify the specific material from which the fact came. At that point, they will be expected to consciously re-evaluate their use of the material and decide whether they have any doubt about the accuracy of their notes or their understanding of the facts. Then the old saw – “when in doubt, check it out or leave it out” – will go into play. Line-by-line editing also must include all cut lines, charts, graphs, etc.
Engage a volunteer assigned strictly as a fact-checker to match the footnotes with the reporter’s notes, contact quoted sources to confirm the accuracy of quotes, read original source material to verify the accuracy of paraphrased and summary statements, check the spelling of every name [including their own bylines] and agency mentioned in the story, and confirm the job titles and fields of expertise of every source.
Submit the final edited version – the one that will be published – to the scrutiny of a final reader who has journalism or copyediting experience and who has never seen any of the earlier versions.