Letter from the Editor: Aiming for Accuracy
A pastor whom I hold in high regard suggested to me that when I cover a presentation for this publication that I give speakers an opportunity to review the story before it goes to press. It’s a good suggestion, and is actually how I prefer to work. I’m a pretty insecure guy, which I blame on post-traumatic stress I suffer from abusive editors at the MU School of Journalism. Every time I see any of my writing in print I squirm a bit. It doesn’t matter how confident I was when I was writing or proofing, when something comes out on paper I’m scared that something is amiss. When phone calls, emails and letters (yes, people still write letters) come in, my anxiety goes up a notch: “Oh no, here it comes…” I say to myself. This is unfair to our readers. Although I expect the worst, I get many more affirmations than I do complaints. And when I do get a critical message, the writer is nearly always polite, and makes good points that I learn from.
When I do have sources read a story before publication it totally takes the pressure off. Sure, the stories won’t necessarily be infallible, but at least the errors won’t totally be my fault. So why not proof with the sources every time? Allow me to share a couple of examples when it didn’t go well. A little over a decade ago I was writing a lead story for the Missouri Conference newspaper about the merger of the East and West Missouri Conferences. It was a technical story, involving specific numbers relating to items that make people edgy when things merge. So I sent a draft of a story around to the teams and committees involved in such matters. I don’t recall that I had anything factually wrong, but I got back a lot of directions in terms of “You can’t say it that way, let’s say it like this…” I took all of those instructions to heart, and revised the story so that everyone involved was happy, and praised my writing craft.
It was probably the worst story I have ever written. The first several paragraphs were indiscernible. The story as a whole did little to inform anyone of anything. It read like a parody of copy from a public relations firm. Writing by committee ended up not being that effective.
Another time I was covering the speech of a pastor who asked to review the copy before publication. I obliged, and he revised. What I got back was the King James Version of this pastor’s talk. It was his time to be in the Conference newspaper, so out came the thesaurus and the concordance. When I got the draft back much later, the result wasn’t bad, but I really felt sorry for how he had painfully labored over every word in what was a relatively insignificant story in a small newspaper published 26 times a year. Years later I covered a workshop led by the same pastor, and he talked about how he was actively working on being less controlling. I knew he was practicing what he preached, because I offered to let him review the story, and he said no thanks.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Everyone can review every story in this magazine before it goes to press. We usually have this entire magazine posted online at least a day or two before the presses start rolling. You can find it online at www.moumethodist.org/magazine. But if you don’t want to check the website every day, but would like to catch the magazine in that little window in-between posting and permanence, you can get a link to it via email as soon as it is posted by subscribing to it www.moumethodist.org/stayconnected. Or download The Missouri Methodists app on an iPad or iPhone. And if you happen to notice I did something like misspell Missouri, go ahead and send me an email at email@example.com before it’s permanently in print.