ASBPE Virtual Roundtable highlights: Performance analysis required when addressing fact-checking dilemmas; accuracy snafus could create competitive distress

“How does an editorial manager incorporate fact-checking when a large team of editors is spread thin? Some brands just have one editor producing monthly print magazines, real-time coverage for the brand site, twice-daily e-newsletters, etc. Often original content goes out with just the author’s eyes.”

The above question submitted by an attendee at one of the ASBPE Virtual Roundtable sessions on March 19 set the stage for discussion throughout the day. Another attendee voiced a concern along similar lines: “Our editorial team is being pushed so hard to increase Website clicks right now that accuracy is sadly taking a lower priority.”

Response to these and other challenges was provided by session moderators Howard Rauch, Roy Harris and Robin Sherman. Here are a few excerpts from the March 19 give-and- take:

*Fact-checking a regular flow of thousands of new product announcements had become impossible for one staff. To clarify which items were worth considering for publication, the editorial director introduced a Product Release Information Form that had to be submitted with each announcement. The form required a brief summary of product benefits.

*An immediate challenge is to create a written policy identifying “red flag” situations when fact-checking is required. It’s not possible to fact-check everything, so the policy need not be saga length. Fact-checking guidelines could be incorporated into existing ethics policy documents where they exist.

*Contracts covering freelance writer assignments should stipulate that authors are responsible for fact-checking information prior to submission. A worthwhile contract advisory would warn all contributors that submission of plagiarized content would not be tolerated. Another contract inclusion would stress an expectation that writers would include copies of all source material with submitted articles.

*Concern that increased fact-checking would create excess time pressure cannot be confirmed unless performance analysis of some form is applied. To do so accurately would actually need to begin with an overall time management review. One approach for print media is to estimate time required to perform each of six standard job functions: (1) original writing; (2) editing work of others; (3) production; (4) article recruitment; (5) travel; (6) miscellaneous management matters. Then — on the basis of a 35-40-hour week — figure percent of total time occupied by print vs. online job components. Finally,estimate fact-checking time requirement as a percent of total hours spent editing the work of others.

*During a post-conference inquiry from a senior editor, I addressed the concern of heavy workloads undermining efforts to achieve highest possible accuracy. One possible outcome frequently overlooked until it is too late occurs when accuracy snafus can be readily detected by alert competitors. When that reality holds true, you unwittingly provide ammunition the opposition can use against you during sales presentations. The biggest fact-checking snafu of all times in my experience occurred when a client managed to publish an article that had appeared several months ago in a competitive magazine.

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