Getting to the bottom of Accuracy

By Corey Poole/Opinion

I’ve spoken to a few classes at Northwestern State University in the Department of New Media, Journalism, and Communication Arts and it’s been a great experience.

Students going into the New Media industry are eager for information and thirsty to hear what it’s all about. The classes were “Writing and Reporting for New Media,” “Writing for Mass Media” and an upper level “Editing” class. I shared some professional experiences and gave them advise on gathering, reporting and editing local and community media.

I focused on the electronic side of Journalism because I became a reporter on the cusp of a transition from print to digital. I was close to graduating from NSU in 2009 when a professor (not one from the Journalism Department) asked me if I realized I was graduating into a dying field. That same year the Department was disbanded, until it was revived in 2015 under the “new media” mantle.

While my professor’s comment was disheartening, I never gave up. After bartending in Natchitoches for a few years I took a graphic design job at the local paper. I quickly moved to the editorial department and served as the paper’s editor before becoming the editor of the Natchitoches Parish Journal, an online news publication.

I grew up loving print, which always gave me a physical copy to hold in my hands. The idea of digitally reporting the news was intimidating at first. That was until I discovered its power to improve things, the demand from readers for real-time news and the gratitude of the local community for keeping them informed.

Through speaking to each class, I found a similar theme of accuracy in reporting. Especially with digital news, accuracy is imperative. The race to be the first news outlet to publish a story often leads to inaccurate facts.

So, reporting that police officers fired into a house during a standoff when they didn’t can get a journalist in a heap of trouble. Calling an Oak tree a Magnolia tree makes readers question what’s up. Calling an invasive species “endangered” is a blatant error. Any good reporter worth his/her salt can’t afford such mistakes.

In small towns, mistakes are magnified. Accuracy and reliability are the cornerstones of a journalist’s reputation. When reporting online, a mistake is easy to correct, but in print it becomes indelible.

Correctable or not, mistakes can change the meaning of a story entirely, or make the community question a publication’s overall integrity and quality. After all, the worst thing possible is to be mistaken for fake news.