Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On last-minute blog checks and the new getting caught

"That restaurant in Venice isn't where John Irving says it is. It's actually in Milan. What are we going to do?"

Back when I was editing and writing for magazines, you'd have a conversation that started like that with your fact-checker or copy editor, roles that don't exist in many places producing content these days. But what I notice is that many journos and communicators aren't even having that conversation with themselves when they publish. Today, content-producers of every stripe are getting caught in errors, almost hourly. And I'm not the only one noticing:
Smart readers who don't normally get caught will note that these mistakes have in common the ability to get you coverage...just maybe not the coverage you were seeking.

There may well be fewer copy editors and fact-checkers, even at premiere news organizations. But this problem is as old as the hills for both journalists and communicators, and I'm here to say that the same people bemoaning the lack of copy editors were once themselves junior staffers who could spell. No need to be ageist now.

The real difference between then and now is that we're able to easily publish more frequently and faster, and we do. We're also able to work ahead, drafting and adding to stories in the queue, then hitting "publish," and we do. We can use convenient technology like dictation software, which enters errors that aren't typically caught by spelling check software, so we do, without always checking the final product before we publish. I think all those factors contribute far more than the age of your interns or the lack of copy editors to the errors that wind up in your copy. 

As someone who publishes three times a week on each of two blogs--that's six posts per week, dears--I drew on my old-school magazine editing hat when I started blogging. I knew how dangerous it is to have the keys to the publisher's car in your hands, so I instituted a night-before-publication last-minute check for every blog post. It takes seconds, and has saved me untold typos and errors; lets me update late-breaking information; and allows me to sleep peacefully while the first post of the day auto-publishes. In 2014, I was able to write ahead and schedule many posts, a convenience that further demands that last-minute check, since posts written well ahead have every potential to be wrong by the time their spot in the queue rolls around.

There's plenty more to consider when it comes to fixing mistakes pre-publication and your policies for correcting them later. Go here to read all my posts on corrections, including correcting fast-moving breaking news on Twitter, which is a horse of a different color entirely.

Mother Jones rounded up the best news corrections of 2014 if you want more cautionary or amusing versions. What are you doing to reduce or prevent mistakes in 2015? The start of the year is a good time to take an hour to discuss this with your team and figure out your approach for the year...and maybe administer a spelling test while you're at it.

Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!

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