Category Archives: Errors

I’m teaching a fact-checking workshop in Seattle on November 4th

I’ll be teaching a fact-checking workshop in Seattle on Saturday, November 4th for the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. This will be a practical how-to workshop for anyone interested in accuracy–editors, writers, or readers–and registration is open to all. I hope you can join me! Here are the details:

Don’t Assume Anything: Practical Fact-Checking

Fact-checking is an important and useful skill for editors, writers, and
readers. But how can you tell whether a piece of writing or a source is
accurate, fair, and credible?

Join researcher Lisa Gold for a how-to workshop guiding you through the
steps of fact-checking—reading skeptically, asking questions, deciding what
to check, assessing the accuracy of different types of facts, finding and
evaluating sources, working with authors, and making corrections. Lisa will
answer questions and share tips, examples, and resources. This practical,
hands-on workshop will take us beyond the introduction to fact-checking
that Lisa gave at the November 2016 Northwest Independent Editors Guild
meeting [watch it here: https://lisagoldresearch.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/my-talk-about-fact-checking/].

Join us Saturday, November 4, from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Phinney
Neighborhood Center Community Hall (Brick Building, Lower Level) for this workshop. The cost will be $45 for Editors Guild members, $50 for nonmembers.

Register for the workshop online here: https://edsguild.org/dont-assume-anything-practical-fact-checking/

Speaker Bio: Lisa Gold is a freelance researcher, fact-checker, and writer. She has fact-checked many kinds of writing, including magazine articles, reported features, essays, book reviews, historical novels, and nonfiction books. She does creative research for authors of fiction and nonfiction, and she teaches research workshops. You’ll find Lisa online at www.lisagold.com and on Twitter at @bylisagold.

 

 

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My talk about fact-checking

The Editors Guild recorded my talk about fact-checking last night and posted it to their YouTube channel, so you can watch it here:

Here’s a link to the PDF handout I prepared and refer to in my talk, with links to selected resources and information about fact-checking:
lisa-gold-fact-checking-eds-guild-handout

As I noted in the meeting description, fact-checking is about ensuring that a piece of writing and its sources are accurate, fair, and credible, and protecting writers and publications from errors, criticism, fraud, and lawsuits. I talked about the skills it requires (an obsession with accuracy, skepticism, critical thinking, the ability to do research and find and evaluate sources, and a willingness to ask questions), who does it, why it’s so rare these days and what types of publications/media generally do or don’t do it. I described the fact-checking process for a major magazine feature, what kinds of things you check and particular trouble spots, discussed some cautionary tales, gave fact-checking tips, and answered questions from the audience.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions. I’d also like to know if there’s any interest in me writing about or teaching classes on fact-checking, research, information literacy, or other topics.

For further reading on these and other subjects, browse my website/blog and my Twitter feed.

I’ll be speaking about fact-checking on November 14th

I’ll be speaking about fact-checking at the November 14th meeting of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild in Seattle:

Fact-Checking: Don’t Assume Anything

Whether editing fiction, nonfiction, corporate documents, or magazine articles, some responsibility falls upon the editor to verify the facts. Fact-checking is about ensuring that a piece of writing and its sources are accurate, fair, and credible in order to protect authors and publishers from errors, criticism, fraud, and lawsuits. Lisa Gold, a fact-checker and researcher, will discuss various aspects of fact-checking, offer tips and resources, and explain why you should be skeptical about everything you read.

Speaker Bio: Lisa Gold is a freelance researcher, fact-checker, and writer. She has fact-checked magazine articles, reported features, narrative essays, book reviews, historical novels, nonfiction books, and other types of writing. She’s been a member of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild since 2005. You’ll find Lisa online at www.lisagold.com and on Twitter at @bylisagold.

The meeting is open to all–you don’t have to be an Editors Guild member to attend–and begins at 6:30pm in the Wallingford neighborhood. Details are on the Editors Guild website (click on the November 14th meeting to see the info and map). If you can’t attend, my talk and Q&A may be recorded and posted on the Editors Guild YouTube page.

If you’re interested in learning more about fact-checking, I recommend two excellent books on the subject, both available in print or ebook:

I’ve added links to some additional resources to my sidebar (with more to come), and here are some of my earlier blog posts on fact-checking.

Update, November 12th:

I went on a tweetstorm today about fact-checking, a summary of which I’ve posted here:

I’ve been thinking a lot about fact-checking this week because of the election and Monday’s Editors Guild meeting. In the meeting description, I wrote that fact-checking is about ensuring that a piece of writing and its sources are accurate, fair, and credible, and protecting writers and publications from errors, criticism, fraud, and lawsuits. But it’s bigger than that.

As writers, editors, or readers, we should care about the facts and loudly call out errors and falsehoods when we see them. So don’t share links without reading and evaluating the content and the source. When you see lies or fake news, call it out, correct it. Critical thinking, information literacy, fact-checking, crap detection, awareness of cognitive biases—these are more important than ever. This kind of work can be hard, lonely, and thankless, and often feels futile, but we should do it anyway, and keep doing it. Though people can choose to ignore or deny facts, eventually everyone has to deal with the consequences.

Update, November 25th: You can watch the video of my talk and download my handout here: https://lisagoldresearch.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/my-talk-about-fact-checking/

No, Oxford hasn’t abandoned the Oxford comma

As long-time readers of this blog know, I love the Oxford comma (also known as the serial or series comma). I wrote in a post over two years ago:

If only we could convince the Times (and other newspapers) to use the serial comma (also known as the series comma or the Oxford comma). I’m a big fan of the serial comma, and the Chicago Manual of Style now “strongly recommends this widely practiced usage, blessed by Fowler and other authorities…, since it prevents ambiguity.”  Here’s an example from the Times that shows what can happen without the serial comma: “By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.” Perhaps the most famous example of why the serial comma should be used is this apocryphal book dedication: “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” (For the origins of these two examples, see this 2006 Language Log post and this 2003 Language Hat post.)

This morning a GalleyCat post reported that the use of the Oxford comma is now discouraged by the University of Oxford (in their online Writing and Style Guide). This has, of course, ignited the Twittersphere with strong reactions, pro and con.

However, it turns out that the story isn’t really true.  Galleycat has just added an update to their blog post:

Reader Michael Williams adds this clarification: “That’s the University of Oxford PR department style guide. Oxford University Press is a commercially and editorially autonomous organization.”

So, much ado about nothing. (Yet another reminder not to believe everything you read on the Internet.) But even if it were true, that would certainly not convince me to give up the Oxford comma.

Update, 6/30/11: 

Oxford Dictionaries tweeted this morning:

The Oxford comma is alive and well at Oxford University Press: http://oxford.ly/mnx8XK

This AP article explains:

But have no fear, comma-philes: the Oxford comma lives.

Oxford University Press, birthplace of the Oxford comma, said Thursday that there has been no change in its century-old style, and jumped into the Twittersphere to confirm that it still follows the standard set out in “New Hart’s Rules.”

The only explicit permission to dispense with the Oxford comma — apparently the cause of the alarm — was in a guide for university staff on writing press releases and internal communications. “It’s not new, it’s been online for several years already,” said Maria Coyle in the university press office.

Yet the report caused a Twitterstorm….

A final post on Cooks Source (updated)

Over the weekend, the Daily Hampshire Gazette posted an article by Dan Crowley containing an interview with Judith Griggs about the Cook Source copyright infringement kerfuffle. (See my two previous posts for background.)

I found the article rather sad, as she still doesn’t seem to get it. She admits printing Monica’s article without permission was wrong but continues to make vague excuses about overwork (she and her daughter run the magazine alone) and her “shortcomings when it comes to understanding copyright law.” She clearly doesn’t understand that what sent everyone into a frenzy was the tone and content of her truly extraordinary e-mail to Monica. It was just so wrong, arrogant, and unintentionally funny that it became an instant meme.

And now she has replaced her previous unsigned statement on the Cooks Source website with a new one, full of anger and self-pity (and lots of spelling and punctuation errors):

Its sad really. The problem is that I have been so overworked and stretched that when this woman — Monica — contacted me, I was on deadline and traveling at the rate of 200 mile a day for that week (over 900 in total for that week), which I actually told her, along with a few other “nice” things, which she hasnt written about. I was stupid to even answer her that night, her email to me was antagonistic and just plain rude and I was exhausted. But I got suckered in and responded. She doesnt say that she was rude, she doesnt say that I agreed (and did) to pay her. It was my plan to contact her after deadline and have a good discussion about it….

I should add that this email exchange took place the day before she wrote her article for the world. After she (likely) received my email, she called the home office phone at 10PM, I didnt answer that late, was in bed as I was traveling again the next day (left at 7AM the next morning) to Connecticut, and didnt get back to her. This is not an uncommon practice with anyone, to not respond to a phone call for a day or two, it happens to me from other businesses, all the time. I came home that day from being in Connecticut to find hundreds of phone messages and emails telling me I sucked and was a dirtbag… and much MUCH worse.

I really wish she had given me a chance to respond to her before blasting me. She really never gave me a chance….

This is how it happened:
When putting together a magazine, a publishing firm usually has a staff of many, a stable of writers and proofreaders. Cooks Source doesnt, it is just us two…and believe me we would if we could use more help. Consequently I do much, have a few stalwart writers who love to write (for free) and a number of publishers and book agents who send me A LOT of books, recipes, press releases, etc — I recieved one even today. In the past I have also assisted budding writers with their writing skills and given them a portfolio piece they can get jobs with, from magazines and newspapers that will pay them. In short, we do a lot of good, sell a lot of books for authors, and help a lot of people. But one night when working yet another 12 hour day late into the night, I was short one article… Instead of picking up one of the multitude of books sent to me and typing it, I got lazy and went to the www and “found” something. Bleary-eyed I didnt notice it was copy written and reordered some of it. I did keep the author’s name on it rather than outright “stealing” it, and it was my intention to contact the author, but I simply forgot, between proofreading, deliveries, exhaustion….

The bad news is that this is probably the final straw for Cooks Source. We have never been a great money-maker even with all the good we do for businesses. Having a black mark wont help…and now, our black mark will become our shroud. Winters are bleak in Western New England, and as such they are bleak for Cooks Source as well. This will end us….

Thank you to all our readers, thanks to all our advertisers and writers… and to everyone who has been supportive and who has been a part of Cooks Source. To one writer in particular, Monica Gaudio, I wish you had given me a chance.

You can read the whole thing here.

What a shameful way for Judith Griggs to exit the stage.

Update 1: Here’s Monica’s response.

Update 2 (11/17/10, morning): In a new article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dan Crowley reports that Judith Griggs is officially shutting down Cooks Source magazine:

“Cooks Source is gone,” Judith D. Griggs said Tuesday, just days after personally distributing her last issue of the free magazine in western New England. “It’s done.”… In a phone interview Tuesday, Griggs said she will leave her statement up a few more days before eliminating the Cooks Source website altogether.

Update 3 (11/17/10, afternoon): The Cooks Source website is gone. Here’s the Google cache of Judith Griggs’ final statement.

Monica Gaudio has posted copies (with dates) of all of her e-mails to Judith Griggs, but she can’t publish the full text of the e-mails she received without permission.

I have treats for you…

* Last night I spoke with Stesha Brandon, the events manager of the University Book Store in Seattle, and she told me that they are getting an Espresso Book Machine in January. (See my post “…an ATM for books” for more about the Espresso Book Machine, including video of it in action.) That makes a total of three EBMs in Washington state (University Book Store, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Village Books in Bellingham), more than any other state. Decisions, decisions…. Which public domain work should I print first?

* Thanks to the LiteratEye blog, I’m having great fun browsing through LibraryThing’s “Legacy Libraries” project, in which members of the “I See Dead People’s Books” group enter the libraries of famous dead people as LibraryThing catalogues. There are nearly 70 completed libraries, including  John Adams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Hepburn, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, T.E. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and George Washington. There are also over 50 libraries in progress, including  Charles Darwin, John Dee, Emily Dickinson, C.S. Lewis, Mary, Queen of Scots, Herman Melville, Adam Smith, Leonardo da Vinci, and William Butler Yeats.

* For those who are total Shakespeare geeks like me, behold the new Shakespeare Quarto Archives, containing digital reproductions and transcriptions of 32 copies of the five earliest editions of Hamlet published before 1642. Here’s a video introduction to the Shakespeare Quarto Archives:

* There are lots of end of the year lists, but I always look forward to those by Craig Silverman on his Regret the Error blog. For your reading pleasure:

Crunks 2009: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

2009 Plagiarism Round-Up

* And finally:

Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

Ceiling Cat creats teh universes and stuffs

Yes, Virginia, there is a LOLCat Bible. I discovered the LOLCat Bible Translation project through Steve Wiggins (Neal Stephenson’s brother-in-law), a scholar of ancient and modern religions with a blog named Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

Too little, too late: Wikipedia decides accuracy is good and vandalism is bad

An article in today’s New York Times revealed that Wikipedia, after years of embarrassing incidents,  “will begin imposing a layer of editorial review on articles about living people”:

Wikipedia, one of the 10 most popular sites on the Web, was founded about eight years ago as a long-shot experiment to create a free encyclopedia from the contributions of volunteers, all with the power to edit, and presumably improve, the content.

Now, as the English-language version of Wikipedia has just surpassed three million articles, that freewheeling ethos is about to be curbed.

Officials at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit in San Francisco that governs Wikipedia, say that within weeks, the English-language Wikipedia will begin imposing a layer of editorial review on articles about living people.

The new feature, called “flagged revisions,” will require that an experienced volunteer editor for Wikipedia sign off on any change made by the public before it can go live. Until the change is approved — or in Wikispeak, flagged — it will sit invisibly on Wikipedia’s servers, and visitors will be directed to the earlier version.

The change is part of a growing realization on the part of Wikipedia’s leaders that as the site grows more influential, they must transform its embrace-the-chaos culture into something more mature and dependable.

Roughly 60 million Americans visit Wikipedia every month. It is the first reference point for many Web inquiries — not least because its pages often lead the search results on Google, Yahoo and Bing. Since Michael Jackson died on June 25, for example, the Wikipedia article about him has been viewed more than 30 million times, with 6 million of those in the first 24 hours.

“We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks,” said Michael Snow, a lawyer in Seattle who is the chairman of the Wikimedia board. “There was a time probably when the community was more forgiving of things that were inaccurate or fudged in some fashion — whether simply misunderstood or an author had some ax to grind. There is less tolerance for that sort of problem now.”

…Although Wikipedia has prevented anonymous users from creating new articles for several years now, the new flagging system crosses a psychological Rubicon. It will divide Wikipedia’s contributors into two classes — experienced, trusted editors, and everyone else — altering Wikipedia’s implicit notion that everyone has an equal right to edit entries.

That right was never absolute, and the policy changes are an extension of earlier struggles between control and openness.

For example, certain popular or controversial pages, like the ones for the singer Britney Spears and for President Obama, are frequently “protected” or “semi-protected,” limiting who, if anyone, can edit the articles…

The new system comes as some recent studies have found Wikipedia is no longer as attractive to first-time or infrequent contributors as it once was.

Ed H. Chi of the Palo Alto Research Center in California, which specializes in research for commercial endeavors, recently completed a study of the millions of changes made to Wikipedia in a month. He concluded that the site’s growth (whether in new articles, new edits or new contributors) hit a plateau in 2007-8.

For some active Wikipedia editors, this was an expected development — after so many articles, naturally there are fewer topics to uncover, and those new topics are not necessarily of general interest.

But Mr. Chi also found that the changes made by more experienced editors were more likely to stay up on the site, whereas one-time editors had a much higher chance of having their edits reversed. He concluded that there was “growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content.”

To other observers, the new flagging system reflects Wikipedia’s necessary acceptance of the responsibility that comes with its vast influence.

“Wikipedia now has the ability to alter the world that it attempts to document,” said Joseph Reagle, an adjunct professor of communications at New York University whose Ph.D. thesis was about the history of Wikipedia.

Under the current system, it is not difficult to insert false information into a Wikipedia entry, at least for a short time. In March, for example, a 22-year-old Irish student planted a false quotation attributed to the French composer Maurice Jarre shortly after Mr. Jarre’s death. It was promptly included in obituaries about Mr. Jarre in several newspapers, including The Guardian and The Independent in Britain. And on Jan. 20, vandals changed the entries for two ailing senators, Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd, to report falsely that they had died.

Flagged revisions, advocates say, could offer one more chance to catch such hoaxes and improve the overall accuracy of Wikipedia’s entries.

Foundation officials intend to put the system into effect first with articles about living people because those pieces are ripe for vandalism and because malicious information within them can be devastating to those individuals.

Exactly who will have flagging privileges has not yet been determined, but the editors will number in the thousands, Wikipedia officials say. With German Wikipedia, nearly 7,500 people have the right to approve a change. The English version, which has more than three times as many articles, would presumably need even more editors to ensure that changes do not languish before approval.

“It is a test,” said Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia. “We will be interested to see all the questions raised. How long will it take for something to be approved? Will it take a couple of minutes, days, weeks?”

Mr. Wales began pushing for the policy after the Kennedy and Byrd hoaxes, but discussions about a review system date back to one of the darkest episodes in Wikipedia’s history, known as the Seigenthaler incident.

In 2005, the prominent author and journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. discovered that Wikipedia’s biographical article connected him to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, a particularly scurrilous thing to report because he was personally close to the Kennedy family.

Since then, Wikipedians have been fanatical about providing sources for facts, with teams of editors adding the label “citation needed” to any sentence without a footnote.

“We have really become part of the infrastructure of how people get information,” Mr. Wales said. “There is a serious responsibility we have.”

I’m not impressed. Though this may prevent some of the more outrageous vandalism, it doesn’t go far enough. Why does the new policy only apply to articles on living people? What about the rest of the articles? What about the bad information that already exists throughout the site? Are the Wikipedia editors going to systematically review existing articles or only new changes to those articles? Who are these “editors” and what are their qualifications?

I’m glad there is finally some acknowledgment among the powers that be at Wikipedia that accuracy is important. But that’s not enough. If accuracy is important, you have to make it a priority and do things on many different levels to try to achieve it. You have to apply your policies to the entire site, not just some articles. You have to bring in people with knowledge, experience, and qualifications to do real editing and fact-checking. (With all of the unemployed editors, fact-checkers, and journalists out there, why not hire a few and let them work their magic.) This new policy is not really about making Wikipedia more accurate, it’s just about trying to stop the embarrassing vandalism stories that hit the news with disturbing regularity.