If you write for the media, or if you blog about newsworthy events, you will appreciate this post where we cover 10 common mistakes journalists make and tell you how to avoid them.
Journalism is meant to be impartial and accurate.
News articles are viewed by millions of daily readers. We rely on news platforms to find out what’s going on in the world, or to follow up on current events.
But unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that news reporting is flawless.
Mistakes happen. These mistakes can sneak past an entire editorial team, and show up online or in print.
These mistakes can sometimes be simple misspellings. These errors can also be ones which affect the accuracy (and perception) of the news.
When writing fact-heavy writing or news features, mistakes are more than just a funny thing to repost. Mistakes have the potential to be dangerous.
Journalists, bloggers, proofreaders, and editors should beware these fatal journalistic faux-pas. For better news reporting, it’s also important to report these mistakes when you’ve seen someone else slip up.
Reporting Mistakes In News
Reporting mistakes is important as a reader.
If you’ve made a mistake in your own writing, would you want someone to tell you? Letting people know about errors can let someone know to fix it.
If you’ve seen a mistake online or print:
- Contact the editor.
- Contact the writer.
- Contact the Press Council.
Informing the editor (or writer) takes a simple email. Just say, ‘Hi, I’ve noticed this.’ Usually, that’s enough to see a correction happen.
Option three should be reserved for any publication-related errors which go against the Code of Conduct. News should be accurate and unbiased. When it isn’t, the Press Council can investigate.
While the majority of these mistakes are accidental, they can present a danger to how facts are read, perceived, or understood.
If you see something, say something. It’s what keeps news reporting fair.
Here’s how to avoid 10 of the most common mistakes in journalism.
10 Common Mistakes Journalists Make (& How To Avoid Them)
As a blogger, writer, or journalist, always check the final draft. (Also check what your publishing software or uploading platform does with the text.)
The few seconds before submission is where small mistakes creep through. Double-check your writing.
We’re telling you what these mistakes are, so that you’ll know what to look for. Blogs count too. As long as you’re writing about real events, watch for these mistakes.
1. Using Incorrect Spelling (Or The Wrong Name)
Names (of companies and people) should always be spelled correctly.
If you aren’t sure, search the name on mainstream news websites to see the standard, accepted spelling.
Getting names wrong in an article is potentially unprofessional. Readers can lose trust in the rest of the piece as a result.
2. Inappropriate Or Irrelevant Featured Images
When articles are uploaded to platforms like WordPress, a ‘featured image’ is selected by the system.
When these articles are shared on social media, it’s the featured image that shows up next to the link.
Always set feature images manually. If you don’t, you risk irrelevant or offensive images showing up instead.
For example, imagine an insurance advertisement ‘featured’ on an article about a car accident. While it’s accidental, it can appear to be in bad taste.
3. Creating Image Bias
The image placed alongside an article can influence a reader’s perception of the text.
Have you noticed how articles have good photographs of some politicians, and bad photographs of others? It’s either accidental or purposeful image bias.
Images can make people look powerful or weak, strong or vulnerable, ridiculous or authoritative. It’s a dirty trick, but it happens every day.
Don’t do it by accident (and especially not on purpose).
4. Vague Pronouns (Or Pronoun Loops)
Effective news writing clarifies names (and who they are within context).
After first use, using pronouns are okay. But never overuse them when it can cause confusion.
An article drowning in he’s, she’s, and they’s is unclear.
A reader should know to whom the article is referring at all times.
5. Direct Rewriting Of Original News
Copying a news article from another journalist’s piece for a rewrite is clumsy, lazy, and common in blogging.
Chase the story yourself for original research, or attribute everything and find your own angle.
A rewrite of someone else’s news is easy to do. But it’s lazy news. It can even be plagiarism.
6. A Lack Of Clarity
News articles should be clear.
Vagueness is a common (and disastrous) mistake.
If you’ve ever read a news piece that felt like an unravelling thread, you’ll know what this means.
For example, something that says ‘cousin of the uncle of the friend of the victim’ actually says nothing at all.
7. Using Wrong Idioms (Or Idioms Wrong)
Idioms are wonderful, and they make language fun to use. ‘Hard news’ just isn’t the place. The wrong (or inappropriate) use of sayings or idioms is a common flaw.
If you are including a saying or idiom in a feature, look up the etymology or meaning.
Sometimes, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. This is how news can offend many people with a simple misunderstanding.
8. Too Much (Or Little) Detail
Skim over details, and readers will lose the facts. Include irrelevant details, and readers will get lost in an ‘information overload’. Mention private or classified information, and it’s a whole other legal issue.
News writing should include essential details that relate to the headline. Not more, and not less.
9. Inaccurate Or Partial Quoting
Journalists and writers are trusted to quote accurately.
Never publish partial quotes that would change, alter, or affect how the quote is perceived.
It’s one of the most dangerous things that a writer can do.
Always keep interview files as proof of a full interview and what was said. (If someone says they were misquoted, can you prove differently?)
10. Headline Bait (At Accuracy’s Expense)
Catchy headlines are okay. Clickable headlines are just fine.
But any headline that changes the context of the article (or that has nothing to do with the text), is baiting the reader.
Headlines can be smart or clever, as long as they have accuracy and relevance.
The Last Word
I hope this article on the 10 most common mistakes journalists make helps you with your writing.
If you want to improve your writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
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