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Fact check report to The Pine Hills

December 13, 2013

by Journalism II

Journalism students at The College of Saint Rose conducted a recent accuracy survey and learned from story sources that overall, the stories on The Pine Hills blog were accurate, but that there were some mistakes.

After the Journalism II class mailed out 39 questionnaires this semester regarding accuracy pertaining to some of the 325 stories published on the blog since February 2010, 38 percent of sources responded.

Accuracy results were last reported to the blog audience in November 2011.

Survey circulated to Pine Hills blog story sources

Survey circulated to Pine Hills blog story sources

Survey circulated to Pine Hills blog story sources
“Journalists’ first obligation is to present the truth and our democracy depends on citizens having reliable and accurate presentable facts put into the right context and means something to their lives, and helps them lead a better life,” said Sana Siwolop, who teaches journalism at St. John’s University in Queens.

Accuracy is one of the four tenets of journalism, along with clarity, precision and fairness, she said. “Of all those things, I would say that accuracy is the most important one because journalists’ first obligation is to the truth, the essence of journalism is a discipline of verification,” said Siwolop, referencing the primary message in a well-respected journalism text, “The Elements of Journalism.”

When journalism does not maintain accuracy, it can cause harm to a person, or an institution, which violates a primary foundation of journalism – to do no harm, Siwolop said.

The editor of the Albany Times Union, Rex Smith, said that one way to ensure solid reporting is to hire the best and most experienced people, which helps establish a culture of quality in the newsroom. Quickly correcting errors also builds credibility. Smith said newsroom employees should listen to sources who report mistakes, and then check the information to avoid any errors in complex stories.

“Accuracy is not just getting the facts right,” said Smith. “Accuracy often means making the extra phone call, going the extra mile to make the story more fully accurate.”

The Times Union publishes corrections and fixes errors in its online articles with a notation indicating the correction in order to notify readers an article has been updated, Smith said. Revealing mistakes enhances a newspaper’s reputation for accuracy, he added.

“We know there will be mistakes,” Smith said, “but if you have a commitment to correcting them, then reporters won’t be afraid to step forward.”

Mistakes can destroy the credibility of a news organization and small organizations are more vulnerable when errors occur, said Angela McFarland, publisher of the Ballston Journal, an online local newspaper in Ballston Spa which has 1,100 paid subscribers and 1,782 headline subscribers.

“The number one reason (to avoid errors) is that you can get sued,” said McFarland. “I can’t afford to get sued.”

Several story sources who responded to this semester’s accuracy survey provided additional feedback to the blog authors.

Information in a 2012 story about a local photographer who won an award was accurate, said Connie Frisbee Houde, who was the focus of the story. She was satisfied with how she was portrayed in the article and said that the quotes were fair and balanced.

Another source, Nan Thomas, said her contribution to a story published in September 2013 about a new restaurant and bar, Jugs and Mugs, was correct.

However, some sources pointed out inaccuracies. Barbara Smith, a member of the common council, noted that a story about SNUG, a violence intervention program, mistakenly reported an inaccurate date in a story. That information has been corrected.

And, Paul Bickel, owner of Paul’s Garage, earned his degree from Hudson Valley Community College in 1974, not in 1976 . That error has since been corrected.

A few sources suggested more information could have been included in stories.

In an article about city zoning, Dan Krouner told the blog that more details were needed in the February 2013 story.

Story source Lorenz Worden of the Albany Bicycle Coalition said he would liked more information included about the group’s focus and about the danger of pedestrian crossings.

In the survey, student reporters asked respondents if they had suggestions for future stories. Any readers who do have suggestions are encouraged to contact The Pine Hills blog at: -30-


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