Whether student, corporate professional or blogger, writers at all levels need to check and double check their facts. It can make a tremendous difference in your credibility. The task at hand will also go a lot smoother if you get your research and fact checking done early in the process. Sooner or later we all slip up and learn that lesson one more time though.
Anyway, I got up the other morning and read on Twitter how one of the writers for The New York Observer, which is owned by Jared Kushner, yep, the Jared Kushner, had written an open letter to him regarding how she felt about Trump’s anti-Semitism and she got laid off. That was the gist. Anybody who has ever had a job has dreamed about telling a certain boss a certain something. The way it all played out, at least on Twitter, was that she had indeed done just that and had been laid off for writing that letter.
This got my writer’s blood boiling on several different levels and my fingers were flying across the keyboard as I hammered out my own thoughts about writers, at least writers who make a living writing, having to answer to their bosses. After having flipped words for a living for so many years, I have both personal opinions and professional experience on the matter. I was on a writerly roll.
So I get my draft hammered out, run a quick errand, grab some lunch, freshen up a bit and come back to finish off my blog post. With the heat of the first draft out of the way, I started filling in the details and doing some old fashioned Google search research to make sure that any relevant facts to the matter were indeed facts, at least as best as I could do on Google, and at a level appropriate to the post.
Even though this post was an opinion/personal experience piece about writers and journalists answering to a boss in what they write for that boss’s publication, I wanted to make reasonably sure that any related facts that I might mention, even in passing, were indeed accurate. This was not a heavy investigative piece, but a little bit of fact checking was still in order. Whatever you write, you need to get the facts right. That is a fundamental of the profession. A basic Google search would do just fine for this one.
The first thing I found out was that The New York Observer, which was the publication under discussion for laying this writer off, had actually seen better times and Kushner had been trying to sell it for a while. I did not find any immediate mention of any ruckus about the “open letter” from the writer.
The other thing that I learned was that she was not the only one who had been laid off. They had been going through cutbacks for a while. In fact, as with many print publications these days, The Observer has seen better days, which is pretty much why Kushner has been hoping to sell it. So much for pretty much my entire blog post.
The whole exercise had turned into a very good example of how things get twisted in and/or by the various media, which is compounded by several things. The top of that list of confounding factors is that most publications will give a writer a certain word count for a certain story and they can only cover so much in that space. For that reason, very often, despite every good writer’s best efforts, things that really are important to a story are completely left out.
One short news piece is seldom going to tell the whole story of much of anything, which is one of the reasons that I keep telling folks to get their news from more than one source. That one detail has to do with limitations on time, space and budget. It really is a business with bills to be paid like any other. I do not know how many times I have wrestled with knowing that “Detail #1,” “Detail #2” and “Detail #3” all need to be covered in a story, but I was only going to be able to include one of them. Condensing words helps, but it is not always enough.
To compound that, the discussion where I learned of the layoff of this one very vocal writer was on Twitter. At 140 characters, give or take, Twitter is right near the shortest maximum word count communications media around. There is just about room to make one point, but only if you work hard on editing your word count. It wasn’t her fault either, she just became the point of discussion.
Coming back to the point of what threw me off, with all these very short, mostly two-line comments, that particular Twitter discussion somehow ended up about this one writer. As an example post from part of that thread, you can see how it looked that way.
What an invigorating discussion though, very pertinent to my own line of work. If we love our work, we all love to be in on discussions that relate to our work. We all love to know what the bright and shining stars in our field are doing. Therefore, I hammered out my draft and was quite pleased with the blog post that was quickly taking shape from my thoughts on the matter.
After I did that, I took a break, got away from Twitter, came back and started filling in the blanks with a few details. It was quickly apparent that it was not all about her at all; three others were laid off at the same time. On top of that, the editor in chief had quit the week before.
None of these events were anywhere close to breaking news. That letter she wrote was back in the summer and The Observer had been having some hard times for a while. Letters or no, people quit and layoffs happen when businesses have hard times.
So much for that story. The thing is, it was not actually a news story that I was doing anyway, but I had sure missed the point on the details. However, as a writer, even if it is not the news, if you are writing a piece, for whatever reason, it is important to get your facts right. Do some double checking. That is true whether you are doing a news story, a research paper for school, or even fiction.
Although there are some exceptions, and sometimes you really do have to write to a certain point (in PR, public relations, for example), when it comes to anything news related, fiction too for that matter, when there are things that you are going to cover and real facts are involved, you need to be getting your research done and making sure you get your facts right before you write that story. You cannot write the end before you verify those facts. If you do, sometimes the whole story is going to slide down the tubes when you realize that the facts do not actually support your premise. This is even true with personal sharing of professional experience blog posts.
If you are going to honestly research and write a story with any amount of integrity, you have to honestly accept the fact that you cannot write the ending before you do your research. No fudging on that one. It can make or break your career or at the least your professional credibility. As many years as I have been writing, sometimes I still forget. All is not lost though, I will save the other post for another day, there is a lesson in that one too.