Getting names right is the "bedrock" measure of accuracy in journalism. When we err, we must correct, writes the Toronto Star's public editor Kathy English
By Kathy English, Toronto Star‘s public editor
In journalism schools across Canada this week, many a freshman student will learn one of the foremost lessons of the J-school classroom: Get someone’s name wrong and you get a failing grade.
In the decade I taught at Ryerson University’s journalism school my students understood that no matter how brilliant their reporting and writing, if they messed up a name, they got an automatic F on that assignment. That’s a common policy of most journalism schools.
In the Star’s newsroom, we don’t hand out failing grades for misspelled, mixed-up names. But we do publish corrections.
If the Star gets a given or surname wrong, whether in the newspaper or online, we always correct. That is a fundamental undertaking of the Star’s corrections practice.
Getting names right has long been considered “the bedrock measure of accuracy” in journalism. Correcting when we make mistakes matters greatly both to those whose names we get wrong and to readers.
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Every media credibility study I’ve looked at indicates that readers link credibility with basic accuracy and believe that getting names right is a significant indication of the overall accuracy of the journalist and the news organization.
We well know it’s a fact that if we get your name wrong you’ll wonder what else we got wrong. That’s why double-checking names must be the most basic of fact-checking for journalists.
But even the most careful journalists can make mistakes with names. Of 198 corrections published in the Star in the first half of this year, 58 were for wrong names. That’s 29 per cent of all corrections and tracking upward from last year when 100 of 415 newspaper corrections (just under 25 per cent) were for incorrect names.
We also made 316 online-only corrections in those six months, a great many for incorrect names.
I can’t imagine anyone here would disagree that’s too many incorrect names making it into the Star. Clearly, the Star could enhance its accuracy record considerably by making even more concerted efforts across the newsroom to ensure all first and last names are stated and spelled correctly.
I can assure you no journalist sets out to mangle someone’s name.
To continue reading this column, please go to thestar.ca where it was originally published.