If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out — This is a saying popularized by the folks at the
Chicago News Service City News Bureau.* Perhaps it’s not as rhythmic as my “verification before dissemination” line, but the idea is the same. In this case, he line is great because it includes a built-in caution about sources. Familiarity and history do not excuse you from checking out the information. Nothing does. (Sorry, mom.)
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is — Journalists are often fooled because we want a story to be true. We want to be able to write about it, we want to be the first to have it. Maybe it confirms something we’ve always believed. Maybe it’s just a great story we can’t wait to turn into a narrative. One illustrative recent example is the fake research report that claimed users of Internet Explorer had a lower IQ than those who use other web browsers. It gave lots of folks a chuckle, and it reinforced a perception. This rule is also useful when it comes to amazing images from breaking news event. Street shark, anyone?
It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup — This applies to transgressions of all sizes. Refusing to correct a misspelled name has the potential to cause far greater damage than simply issuing a proper correction. Blindly circling the wagons without first seeing if complaints and requests for correction are valid only further enrages people. Admit your errors and reap the rewards.
Those are my maxims. What about you? What other rules or clichés apply to accuracy? Put them in the comments and let’s see what we can come up with.
Correction of the Week
In a Sept. 15 “Science,” Daniel Engber mistakenly referred to the latest Transformers movie as Dark Side of the Moon. That’s the title of a Pink Floyd album. The movie is subtitled Dark of the Moon. - Slate
Correction: The organization that originated the saying “if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out” was not called the Chicago News Service. It was called the City News Bureau. Here’s a ninth rule for doing accurate journalism: always double-check names. CJR regrets the error.