Raise A Brow

John McIntyre has an excellent post today on why it’s important to know what the hell words actually mean. He calls out Atlantic Wire writer Adam Clark Estes for claiming that GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul “furrowed his eyebrows” during a CNN interview prior to “storming off completely.” The video of the interview is embedded within the story in question, which was published by the National Journal.

You should read McIntyre’s post, as he does a better job than I could at explaining precisely why “furrowing the brow” is impossible (by way of pointing out exactly what “furrow” means). But the real lesson here is one all reporters—irrespective of publication medium—would do well to write on a Post-It note, carry around with us, and stick above our computer monitors prior to beginning any article.

Reporters report what happened. Sometimes what happened is boring. That’s OK. As you’ll see in the CNN interview, Paul gets agitated after fielding questions about newsletters he once published in the early nineties. At one point, the exchange between CNN’s Gloria Borger and Paul becomes visibly uncomfortable. For the most part, though, it’s a standard interview. It needs to happen, because journalists are tasked with holding political figures accountable, but the interview itself isn’t going off like fireworks on July 4th.

But at no time is Paul furrowing his eyebrows; and while it isn’t clear (from the video clip) if Paul abruptly ended the interview, or if Borger was finished with her questions, it is clear that he didn’t “storm off”—that is, angrily, suddenly, and hurriedly leave the room (possibly with the microphone still attached to the lapel of his jacket). To say he did is sloppy reporting, primarily because of the imprecision, and especially because writing it in such a way attaches a connotation—unfavorable to Paul—to the entire exchange.

Reporting, at times, can be boring. But accuracy is paramount. If all a person did was leave the room, it’s best to just say so.

20 Minutes? Let’s Try That Again.

A good friend of mine posted the below image to my Facebook wall this morning:

His prompt, to me, was whether I thought the differences between the two stories amounted to any sort of censorship, or if the New York Times had merely edited the updated article (the one on the right) by rewriting the lead.

Of course, the superimposed text—especially the “shift the blame” part—suggests something different entirely.

Notice that in the piece on the left, the manner in which the lead is written suggests entrapment* on the part of New York City’s police forces. The police allowed protestors onto the bridge, knowing full well that obstructing a roadway is a legitimate charge,** and therefore lured protestors into their being arrested.

In the piece on the right, the lead … well, it doesn’t place any blame whatsoever. It merely states what happened (“a tense showdown”) and, for all intents and purposes, allows the reader to assume how that “showdown” might have gone down. Now, the superimposed text seems to suggest that in those “20 minutes” the New York Times effectively made the protestors, instead of the police, the wrongdoers.

But, quite frankly, all this is—as I interpret it—is shoddy initial reporting, the sort of work you’ll get in the digital age when a reporter is expected to file quickly, before any editing happens. Here’s why:

1. For starters, notice the time discrepancy. Yes, we know—20 minutes. But have a look next to the bylines of each article. I doubt the New York Times organizes stories in their online content management system according to when a reporter saved a draft of a story; it seems perfectly plausible for anyone not working at the Times to assume that the initial iteration of this story was published “47 minutes ago,” with a newer version appearing “9 minutes ago.” So, whoever took this screen shot appears to have grabbed a story 56 minutes after the fact.

2. And that 56 minutes is important, because in the new version, not only do we have a rewritten lead, but we also have another reporter contributing to the story. That reporter probably brought with him more quotes, more anecdotes, and more information, all of which more than likely helped flesh out the original piece. This means—and we’ll never really know***—that the new lead was probably just edited. Any lead that implicates a party involved off of flimsy evidence (in this case, the reporter’s observations****) is dubious at best. Recognizing that, once there was time to edit the piece, the reporter/editor/editors at the New York Times rewrote the lead. That’s my guess.

I’m not necessarily condoning the action. A lead like the one on the left is potentially libelous, insofar as the statement is a potential untruth about the New York City police department (though, proving libel against an organization is exceedingly difficult, since one must prove, in addition to the three other proofs, that the writer or publication made a statement with a “reckless” disregard for the truth). And in reporting, if you’re not entirely sure something happened (in this case, police allowing protestors onto a bridge only to cut them off and arrest them), then you shouldn’t report it.

But with these two stories? It seems to be just a little bit of editing.

*Entrapment, according to a law school-attending friend of mine, Sean Gallagher, requires a police officer to do something that wouldn’t happen in a reasonable situation. (Note: that statement is not legal advice.) If a police officer tells you it’s OK to speed, he can still arrest you for speeding; the same goes with crossing that bridge in New York City, which is something the protestors were going to do regardless of cop presence. Now entrapment, he says, would be more like a cop soliciting sex from a prostitute, and then arresting her for prostitution. (I’ll spare you his phrasing…)

**A quick Google search will turn up New York City’s traffic and pedestrian laws. One such statute—§ 1152 Pedestrians right-of-way when crossing a roadway outside a crosswalk—I found particularly enjoyable. (“Give us our crosswalks BACK! And keep your government hands off my Medicare!”)

***Down, conspiracy theorists! Down!

****Reporting, as its most base level, is a trade of observation. This is why e-mailing or aggregation will never suffice. Even over the phone, a reporter can learn of a subject’s ticks, peculiarities, tone, and the like. It is perfectly reasonable to use one’s observations while reporting, assuming there are no doubts about the veracity of said observations. But if your work tends to invite incredulity, give John Buchan a call, and ask him how he got so good at making shit up.

March to Your Own Beat

Lame excuses notwithstanding—like, “The dog ate my computer”—today will be a double-post day, something I must do to get myself back on track after a week’s time of neglect.*

Interesting story from Gigaom on the service Chartbeat, which provides real-time analytics of a webpage’s click statistics (among other nuggets of information). Real-time is the differentiating factor here, as Google Analytics already provides users with statistics referring to pageviews, unique visitors, content clicks, referring sites, and the like; Chartbeat provides a minute-by-minute analysis of how viewers of a website interact with the content: where they click, precisely when they do click, how long they remain on certain pages, and whether they’re commenting or not (provided commenting is a feature provided by said website).

Newsbeat is the newsroom equivalent employed by several reputable publications and television outlets, including Fast Company, The New York Times, and Al Jazeera.**

The service, for those organizations that can afford it—I would add, as an aside, that for smaller media outfits, the monthly cost of Newsbeat probably will not ever justify its overall value, unless online revenues rose in proportion—seems to be the worthwhile alternative to Google Analytics, or at least an additional layer of reader information to garner more precise thoughts about a website’s content that extrapolation from day-to-day data offered by Google’s service can’t always offer (unless you’re a psychic, or that boy wizard who stopped making movies and has now left countless teenagers without a purpose in life).

Of particular note, though, is what Chartbeat general manager Tony Haile called attention to with respect to one news outlet’s experience with Newsbeat. From Gigaom:

“And not only will this data not accelerate a “race to the bottom” with respect to content, Haile says it can actually help do the opposite: the Chartbeat GM says that one of the major publishers the company was working with looked at the data from Newsbeat and saw that two stories were getting large amounts of traffic: one about a case of infanticide in France and the other about Iraq. The number one story on the front page of the site was about season two of The Jersey Shore, and it was getting hardly any traffic at all — and neither of the two most-read stories were above the fold on the home page.”

The fact that a story about the Jersey Shore is getting no traffic isn’t the remarkable thing here—necessarily. What the anecdote argues implicitly against is a crazed obsession with formatting headlines, story summaries, and even the first paragraphs of stories themselves so that they conform to Google’s SEO standards. Journalists decrying such a practice as something that dumbs down news or misleads readers is not new.

But consider, for a moment, how news organizations for a decade have tended to interpret their analytics information. A great emphasis was placed on unique visitors, or, in Google Analytics’ (now rather meaningless) jargon, absolute unique visitors, and rightly so. The thinking, it went, was any increase in unique visitors would enable a news outlet to charge more for their online advertising, since more eyeballs were hitting a site. Yes.

But also consider how such a philosophy could be drastically misleading. What an over-emphasis on SEO-friendly language and counting uniques could do is force a news organization to lose site of its audience (especially those aforementioned smaller news outlets, with limited audiences on the basis of where they publish and who the readership comprises). What becomes paramount is any large number of eyeballs on a site, irrespective of their relative number of pageviews (one million visitors could be looking at just one page) or their relative time spent on your site (one million visitors could be spending five seconds each just looking at the headline). It’s a trend the latest Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s digital media report calls “fly-bys.” From the report:

“[Seattle-based ScoutAnalytics' Matt] Shanahan points to a website for a 90,000-circulation newspaper that serves a medium-sized city on the East Coast. … This site gets around 450,000 unique visitors a month. … The most loyal are the ‘fans,’ who visit at least twice a week. … and finally, the ‘fly-bys,’ who come about once a month. … The most loyal visitors are a very small part of the overall audience: Fans make up about 4 percent of the total number of visitors. … [But] [f]ans, despite their small numbers, were responsible for more than 55 percent of the site’s traffic. Fly-bys—those people most likely to come from a search engine or blog—clicked on barely three pages a month. Overall, each fan generated about 50 times more traffic per person than a fly-by.

As Hamlet would say, there’s the rub. What Newsbeat could effectively do is allow news organizations to better target and tailor their content for their respective audiences—what their readers spend time reading and commenting on, and then work to provide expanded coverage, a weekly blog, several Web-only stories, etc. This is significant for two reasons: one, newsrooms will get away from (I believe is) the misguided practice of throwing keywords (“LADY GAGA!”; “HOT PICS!”; “RAW SEX!!!!”)*** on a story just because; and two, it forces advertisers looking to purchase space online to pay less attention to how many clicks their ads are getting and more attention to how many eyeballs of value see their advertisements. One million readers means nothing if your ad is embedded on a website’s “Food” page and those million readers all sit on one story on the website’s “Culture” page; I’ll take 50,000 loyal eyeballs over that, especially if each one of those pairs of eyeballs is spending upwards of four or five minutes on my webpages.

And if the advertisers don’t buy it, just ask them how many clicks they ever received on print advertisements. Or how many of those print advertisements translated directly into a sale.

*I was busy last week readying the Urbanite website for the online launch of our August print publication. While I’m biased, I recommend giving this issue a read: we have a rather humorous account of the origins of Defenders’ Day, as related by local comedian Jim Meyer; a thoughtful reconsideration of why Maryland still allows for the death penalty, by our Crime & Punishment series author Michael Corbin; and what joys accompany liveaboard life, by assistant editor Rebecca Messner. Oh, and I have a few small bylines as well.

**Yes, I did just call Al Jazeera reputable. Unlike Bill O’Reilly (whom, I should add, I watched regularly when I still chose to have a television), I don’t think they’re fighting a secret media jihad for control of my fanatical instincts. If anything, they, more than other people who profess to uphold it, still support a free marketplace of ideas, as well as the idea that shoddy or fanatical ideas will eventually be shouted down.

***Clearly, I’m being hyperbolic. Newsrooms don’t scream “RAW SEX!!!” They scream, “FIRE THE EDITING STAFF! WE NEED TO SAVE MONEY!!!”

Style, Dammit. F#%@ing Style.

If you’ve ever been prescribed an overly crippling dose of William Strunk’s The Elements of Style, then you know how painful it is to read prose about (sometimes dated) grammatical rules written in a stilted, stuffy cadence circa 1918.

Enter, thankfully, The Elements of F*cking Style, published this year and written by Chris Baker and Jacob Hansen. While the scope and aim of the work is similar to that of the original Elements of Style—and while a subtle, persnickety insistence on prescriptive practices finds its way into the book, such as the authors’ assertion that “The active voice is the only way to fly”—F*cking Style employs a seemingly age-old trick to cajole, coerce, and even downright convince the most ungrammatical of grammar non-nerds to leaf through its pages: “using sex, drugs, and fucking swearing. . . . Because we’re into that shit.”

A quick glance through the “Table of Fucking Contents” illustrates that the book covers the basics, as it were. Such sections as “Commas are fucking fun,” “A colon is more than an organ that gets cancer,” and “Pronouns are a real bitch” walk readers through the usefulness of, say, using commas “to parenthesize shit,” and a general adherence to grammatical rules that will keep your writing clear and cogent. Subsequent sections delve more deeply into instructions on writing, with pages devoted to using “strong, definite language in your writing”—in an attempt to “Make that sentence your bitch”—parallel construction, organized under the apt (I guess) moniker of “Symmetry is the tits,” and organization of words, thoughts, and paragraphs, under the section “Incest need not stay relegated to European monarchies; keep related words together for clarity.” A real strength of this work is the entire section on “Words Your Bound to Fuck Up,” a helpful guide to its and it’s; they’re, their, and there; and affect and effect—among other words—that we have all fucked up at some point or another.

However, the talent the authors display for vivid imagery and example writing that would make your mother cringe (as well as get her to understand grammar rules) makes the book funnier than a night of shitty Dane Cook stand-up on Comedy Central. For instance:

On symmetry: “All right, remember what we wrote about half a page ago regarding symmetry? About how it sucks big, flaccid penis and stinks of amateurism?”

On the positive form: “It was not that I studied more, but that I smoked pot less.”

On not “fuck[ing] up the coordination of number between subject and verb”: “Everything I loved about her—the pert breasts, the deviant sexuality, the incessant need to videotape our lovemaking—is everything that haunts me.”

As I read my way through F*cking Style, I will no doubt arrive at points where that aforementioned subtle, persnickety insistence on prescriptive practices inspires a bit of blog-mediated rambling and arguing. At which point, I hope, you will join me—for or against—in the fucking comments section, and criticize or applaud the shit out of whatever the fuck it is I’m saying.

Be Careful Where You Stand

Readers following this blog know that I’ve been happily (and gainfully) employed as the Digital Media Editor for Baltimore’s Urbanite magazine since April’s end. It’s a fine job, one that entails largely the understanding and analysis of how readers interact with the Web—from where Urbanite‘s traffic comes (direct links versus referring sites, for instance), in what ways online publications can boost online and mobile readership, and some strategy with respect to how traditionally print publications can attract online readership and loyalty while still turning a profit.

And then, of course, there’s some additional wrangling with various content management system fixes, editing of e-mail newsletters, and the share of writing for the print magazine.

One part of the job I wasn’t alerted to initially was the task of proofreading the magazine (though it certainly wasn’t a task I took on begrudgingly, having learned the importance of editing from former professor turned internship supervisor turned professional colleague, John McIntyre).

In one story, I noted the author’s use of the word “podium,” which was intended as that wooden thing people stand behind while giving a speech or lecture of some kind. At once the blue pen came out. I quickly changed the aforementioned word to “lectern” and forgave the error.

The word “podium,” from the Greek root “podos,” meaning foot (do a Google search), is the wooden dais upon which a person stands so as to be slightly elevated. The “lectern,” derived from the Latin “legere,” meaning to read—it turns out that preparatory school education served some purpose—is the wooden stand, often with a slanted top, behind which a person stands to read from prepared remarks or a book.

In all probability, the distinction—like the “who-whom” distinction—will eventually die out, and either word will suffice for a person thinking of a podium (but actually meaning lectern). Until then, I’ll continue to insist that words have definitions for a reason.

What Editing Is, What Editing Isn’t

Many thanks to those who participated in my (extremely unofficial) copy editing test last week. *At the bottom of this post I have typed out my own answers as I would have responded, along with the responder whom I dubbed the winner of two free beers.

But before we get all pretzel-and-Blue Moon-happy…

The aim of the test was in no way to demonstrate a superior understanding of the rules of grammar, or a more sophisticated method to wording sentences, or any sort of prescriptivist viewpoint.

What I’m railing against is the idea that writers don’t need editors, especially when proper names (“Franzon”) continue to be misspelled in articles and improper usage (mantel vs. mantle) continues to pop up in published stories. The rest of the mistakes I inserted, more or less, are idiosyncratic to their respective style rules (AP vs. Chicago vs. “house” publication styles), which, of course, are known best by teams of copy editors who work with them every day. (At least, in my experience, when it comes to newspapers.)

Indeed, to insist on apposition, for instance, when writing about Night Content Production Manager, John McIntyre, is idiomatic to conventional grammar rules (if you can believe conventional grammar rules ring in my ears like the soulful sounds of John Coltrane). To write out “Night Content Production Manager John McIntyre” without placing John McIntyre’s name in apposition is to follow, generally, AP Style rules (same goes with capitalizing his title, but only when it precedes the proper name).

You see what I’m getting at. The test was not designed to test anyone’s knowledge of idiosyncratic style rules, which are flexible, malleable, and specific to various publications’ standards. (I mean, for chrissakes, first AP tells me email is e-mail, and then they tell me e-mail is email.) It was designed, however, to slap around this idea that gutting copy editing staffs at newspapers will lead to better custodianship of the written word by reporters, and therefore you, the reader, will still receive a bang-up product while they, the newspaper, saves some money.

No. No. No. Might as well just bang your head against a wall instead. And while the newspaper industry continues to “experiment” with piss-poor ways of cutting costs in a dying industry, that’s about the only thing that can numb the pain. Maybe if enough brain cells are damaged, you won’t even notice the errors.

*Congratulations to Erin, who was the first to post her responses and noticed precisely the issues in need of correction. Also, congratulations to MichiganCityDDS, a responder who threw in that hyphen between “dapper” and “looking” (I’m partial to hyphenating), in addition to making the other necessary corrections. I might also point you to the responses of Not a Grammarian; I happen to know he is a professor, and I think it’s interesting to see the variability between how a journalist would correct these sentences versus how an academic corrects these sentences.

My own corrections:

1. “What are you doing?” shouted Regina. “How dare you rest your beer on the mantel without using a coaster!”

2. On a bright, sunny day in Baltimore, Michael set out on his bicycle down to Patterson Park, where he looked forward to reading Jonathan Franzen’s new novel.

3. “For shame,” said Betty. “And to think we were about to go outside to grill wieners right as Congressman Weiner was tweeting photographs of his wiener to some girl in Seattle.”

4. I will be attending the play with Sally, who is going to be dropped off by her parents John and Margaret, whom I met last Sunday.

5. The Baltimore Sun’s Night Content Production Manager John McIntyre is perhaps the most dapper-looking gentleman in Baltimore City; indeed he looks like one of the cast members of the AMC show Mad Men.

Think You’re Responsible, Huh? Well, Pony Up

John McIntyre writes on his You Don’t Say blog about the Raleigh News & Observer, which just this week chose to annihilate its entire copy editing and design team. As McIntyre rightly points out, such decisions made by newspapers today are efforts at increasing profitability at the sake of a newspaper’s quality.

Even more troubling, perhaps, is the newspaper industry’s continuing inability to understand that sacrificing the quality of your print product by firing workers to save money in the short term will not translate into long-term economic success. Indeed, eliminating the entire copy desk is little more than a sunk cost: in doing so, newspapers not only continue to shy away from innovation and creative solutions to actually increase profitability, but also catalyze their own demise by being seemingly willing to further lower the value of their product. Why, logical people will ask, should we continue paying for a newspaper with mediocre city coverage run by an editorial team that appears unabashedly complicit in riddling the paper with grammatical and spelling errors?

Naturally, reporters will be more responsible. (Though that claim is pure bunk, especially when writers on The Atlantic Wire—an Atlantic Media Company publication, for chrissakes—don’t even know how to correctly make plural people’s last names or spell the word “separate.”)

It’s time to pony up, I say. Below you will find five sentences. If you are a writer and/or journalist, I challenge you to the test. First person to correct the errors in each sentence and leave the corrections in the comments section on this blog will be treated to two complimentary beers at Mick O’Shea’s Irish Pub in Baltimore, courtesy of my bank account. However, I should disclose now that if the winner uses the opportunity to order Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, or anything “Lite,” for that matter, the rules of the competition become null and void.

The test:

  1. “What are you doing?” shouted Regina. “How dare you rest your beer on the mantle without using a coaster!”
  2. A bright, sunny day in Baltimore, Michael set out on his bicycle down to Patterson Park, where he looked forward to reading Jonathan Franzon’s new novel.
  3. “For shame,” said Betty. “And to think we were about to go outside to grill wieners right as Congressman Weiner was tweeting photographs of his weiner to some girl in Seattle.”
  4. I will be attending the play with Sally, who is going to be dropped off by her parents John and Margeret, who I met last Sunday.
  5. The Baltimore Sun’s Night Content Production Manager John McIntyre is perhaps the most dappor looking gentlemen in Baltimore City, indeed he looks like one of the cast members of the AMC show Mad Men.

Back in the Habit

For a time, this blog has been noticeably dormant, an effect largely a product of my end-of-semester schedule (which resembled more a rabid dog chasing a car tire lined with various cuts of raw meat than that of a 22-year-old, meagerly-paid writer-journalist). To document precisely why my “voice” has been for awhile soundless—a point of happiness for some, I’m sure—takes far less time from my schedule than each of these following obligations did: for one, I had to graduate college, since apparently not doing so would have been a supreme waste of capital, both human and financial; securing gainful employment was necessary to ensure my not returning to the land of my father and mother (which wouldn’t have been awful, so to speak, but rather…well, awful); and, as a pre-condition for graduation, I needed to finish writing my English Literature independent study, which started summer 2010 as a thesis paper, but gradually morphed into a smaller-scale project with a more minimal and manageable scope.

But first things first: I am pleased to announce that I was hired as the new Digital Media Editor at Baltimore’s Urbanite magazine, a monthly publication about cities and city life, as seen through the distinctive lens of Baltimore. Basically, we’re a publication of Baltimore-loving people, who know the city as a great breeding ground for the arts, theater, innovation in transportation, communication, and entrepreneurship; we firmly believe that Baltimore’s best days are ahead. My main task will be swimming through the tsunami that is digital journalism—how its flipped the journalism industry on its head, what its done for advertising dollars, and what it means for driving, and keeping, viewership and readership on a website—along with some writing for the print magazine.

Now, the paper, which I titled Novelistic Portrayals of a Post-Apartheid South Africa, uses several bellwether texts by South African novelists as points of examination to determine—as best as the literary world can—if the prospect of black and white South Africans sharing physical, geographical space in a post-apartheid South Africa is possible, or merely a fickle pipedream. By design, the paper has flaws; admittedly, recent history demonstrates that black and white South Africans can share geographical space harmoniously. But the aim here was to survey what celebrated, significant South Africans novelists thought about blacks and whites sharing space in-country, as depicted by their respective novelistic works. (If you are so bold, or a sucker for punishment, you may read the paper in its entirety by clicking the hyperlink at the beginning of this paragraph.)

For any Loyola University Maryland English majors reading, I recommend embarking on such a project your senior year, be it a full-blown thesis or a parsed down independent study. At several points throughout my writing, I realized that sentences and ideas were less so those of other scholars or writers, but wholly my own concepts and observations being brought to bear; as opposed to analyzing what other scholars have done, and then commenting back, you will find that you are adding new material to continuing conversations. In a way, writing such a paper marks your development in the major, and signals a crossing-over of sorts from writing research papers to producing original thoughts for use in a long lineage of dialogue and debate.

Oh, and, moving back home wouldn’t have been awful at all. I have fantastic parents—the very best, in my opinion (naturally)—but I’m just tired of having my mother call me “baby.” I’m 22, mom . . . always remember the second “2.”

Reconsider this: editing is more than proofing

During my time working for The Greyhound, the student newspaper of Loyola University Maryland, I noticed a somewhat disturbing trend over the course of four years: people thought editing was synonymous with proofreading.

That is, section and copy editors alike would come to an article, read it through checking for misspellings and errors in punctuation use, correct any such errors, and then approve the article for publication. The problem, however, is that any article could have all the words within in spelled correctly, and yet still be factually inaccurate.

“There going to they’re friends’ house.” Nothing spelled wrong there, but the usage is incorrect.

“About 40 percent of the funding will be used for the new dormitory, leaving the school with about 20 percent to use on other projects.” Again, nothing spelled wrong there, but why don’t the percentages given add up to 100?

To be a good copy editor is to be an obsessive fact-checker. Your publication’s reputation, quite literally, depends upon it. Factual inaccuracies damage your credibility, make readers distrustful, and embarrass you, both personally and professionally. Fact-checking ensures that information given in any story, from hard data to certain quotations, are appropriate, correct, and do not misrepresent information or people in any way. Four elements comprise the “shortlist,” so to speak, for quick fact-checking–items in a story that you should be watching for and noticing right away.

  1. Names. Always look up someone’s name. A little skepticism toward writers never hurt anyone. Assume they’ve misspelled every name in the article, and you’ll have no choice but to double-check the spelling to make sure they haven’t.
  2. Titles. Is Jane Smith the “administrative assistant” or the “assistant administrator”? They don’t mean the same thing; be sure the article doesn’t make it sound like they are the same thing.
  3. “Hard data.” Numbers and figures. Add up percentages. If an article gives a breakdown of how a $3.3 million budget is to be spent, add up all the numbers in the breakdown to be sure they equal $3.3 million. Cross-check figures cited to the source material; make sure, first, that the numbers given in the article are correct, and then make sure the numbers given are applicable.
  4. Captions and photos. Does the caption accompanying the selected photograph make sense? Does the caption describe correctly what the photo portrays?

Naturally, to employ legions of fact-checkers is economically impractical for many publications. Editors often rely on writers to have done their due diligence in reporting and writing the story. But the process works most effectively when journalists conduct their reporting, research and writing methodically, and when editors approach stories skeptically. And treat fact-checking as something separate from, but equally as important as, proofreading.