Getting it right

I hate to be wrong. I can still remember the time in fourth grade when we were studying powers of ten, and the teacher asked, "What's one hundred times one hundred?" and I raised my little hand and said, "One thousand." Oh no! Wrong! The shame still stings a little.

So maybe it's a good thing that our jobs as researchers involve a lot of fact-checking. Typically, our tireless associate producers do their own fact checking (two sources for every fact, plus expert reviews, if you're wondering). Our job is to check the checking. But sometimes time is tight, or someone forgot to hire an associate producer (oops!), and then your humble researchers jump in to the void.

That's why this article in the February 9 New Yorker (registration required) made me smile. John McPhee (who, wouldn't you know it, just happens to have a Facebook page) pays tribute to veteran fact-checker Sara Lippincott:

Explaining her work to an audience at a journalism school, Sara once said, "Each word in the piece that has even a shred of fact clinging to it is scrutinized, and, if passed, given the checker's imprimatur, which consists of a tiny pencil tick."
So next time you're watching a documentary, and that "Voice of God" narrator comes on and intones something like, "Elephants poop 300 pounds a day," think about the lowly fact-checker, burning the midnight oil in some carpeted cubicle somewhere, reading everything she can get her hands on about elephants' toilet habits--all in the name of getting it right.
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