Sub-Editing – Where to Check Your Facts
One of a sub-editor's primary roles is to eradicate inaccuracy from written work. This means an awful lot of checking and double-checking what someone has written to make sure it makes complete sense and that it is as actually accurate as is humanly possible. While search engines make great places to find quick results in terms of checking most of these facts, there are some times when the Internet can act as a hindrance to getting the right information.
Sub-editors sleep a lot more easily at night if they have double-checked all of their facts; that is they have gotten confirmation from two reliable sources. The problem here comes when a powerful and usually reliable source is used as the foundation of everyone else's fact. When this happens, looking on a search engine will only confirm an inaccuracy.
So what to do? There are usually a few little nooks in which to search to ensure you have the facts. Firstly, if the piece you are checking is an interview and there's something on there that does not tally up, check with the person who conducted the interview. Ask them for the tapes if necessary. You can not change what someone has said, but if you make sure sure that what you have written down is what came out of their mouth, then even if it is wrong you have done your best.
In fact, the writer is often your first port of call, if not to confirm a fact then to confirm where they found it. If the source is a reliable news agency then that outweighs a piece of gossip that one of their friends heard in a bar. Furthermore, if more than one news outlet is saying the same thing (so long as those news outlets are not controlled by the same company) then you are well on your way to confirming something as fact.
If an internet search is proving fruitless then it's time to take it old school and pick up the telephone. Speak to people's agents if you can, ring press agencies, PR agencies, libraries, distribution centers … anyone you can think of that could confirm what is written or what you suspect may be untrue.
Remember, just because a lot of people say something does not mean that it is true. It is up to you as a sub-editor to evaluate a source and then make a justification call on whether or not what you are being told is the truth.
There will always be some statements that remain un-checkable. But taking a logical approach to eliminating the untruths and keeping records of where you found your conflicting information will go some way to keeping your publication's content honest.