Who’s Responsible for Fact-Checking? 3 Steps for Getting (and keeping) Your Facts Straight
By freelance travel writer and editor, Roberta Beach Jacobson, in Karpathos, Greece
I was assigned to cover a small island for a weekly newspaper. It was the sort of tranquil spot you’d go to get away from it all. You’d swim, fish, or hike. There wasn’t much there beyond pebble beaches to help me reach my 1400 words — just a museum, a tourist shop, two grocery stores, plus a row of restaurants, cafes, and pensions.
The museum would figure greatly into my report, or that was my plan. I found the door locked. A posted sign said it would remain closed for renovations until September.
I could include only a passing mention of the closed museum in my article, stating it might open again in September. I added the museum’s telephone number. Bad news for my article, no?
In a way, I consider myself lucky. I found out it was closed in time to change the focus of my writing. Of course, I scrambled around to fill those few hundred words.
How can a freelancer ever be prepared for the surprises in travel writing?
BEFORE YOUR TRIP
Research as much as you can, not relying on just the Internet. You aren’t certain how up-to-date or accurate some Webpages are. Buy travel books. Contact tourist boards and get their attention. Ask travel-type businesses for brochures.
Mention press, press, press. Public relations (PR) folks, no matter if from a hotel chain or a cruise liner, will love sharing their promotional material with you. Once they see a few of your articles in print, they’ll turn into your cheering squad.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
As travel writer Jennifer Stevens advises, “Make sure you have your facts right.”
Accuracy is a must for any travel article. You’ll be taking notes (put dates on those pages), and possibly photos, too. You can try using a cassette recorder to sum up each day’s activities and observations — if that sort of thing works for you.
You’ll be asking questions to anybody and everybody along the way, and interviewing those who can move your story along. Trust me, anybody in the travel industry will be impressed to hear you’re a travel writer and might drum up some business for them.
AFTER THE TRIP
You’ve worked hard on perfecting your masterpiece and you’ve double-checked your facts.
The anecdotes the editor is expecting from you are woven throughout your article.
You’ve met your deadline, but worries set in soon after you’ve submitted your completed article.
You read in the newspaper about a fire in one of the hotels recommended in your article. Not to mention the area had serious flooding weeks after you were there. Or an earthquake. Anything is possible.
Are you responsible for alerting your editor? Yes and no. It depends on the degree of trouble in your story.
If the publication has a fact-checker, you can certainly mention major updates to her when she calls or e-mails. Let her know that Hotel XYZ burned down and that the city’s main highway has jumbo cracks because of the recent flooding/earthquake.
If there is no fact-checker, a heads-up note to the editor should suffice. It’ll be up the editor if any changes are incorporated into your story.
However, don’t lose sleep about the minor stuff. Don’t pester your editor. If some of the restaurants you liked have raised their prices by 5% since you ate there, so what? With lead times to publication being what they are (a few months to a year), it’s rare for an article to reflect the current situation the particular day the magazine hits the stands. Think how most travel guidebooks run a disclaimer in small print about how they can’t be held accountable should the traveler experience something different.
You just have to let your story, your baby, go. You’ve done your best and you told the truth. The details were correct when you pushed “send” on the computer. After that, you are no longer in control. The editor is.
[Roberta’s travel articles have been published in Travel Smart, Transitions Abroad, The Educated Traveler, International Living, The Athens News, The International Railway Traveler and JustSayGo.com. She has contributed to travel books by Lonely Planet, Survival Books, and Travelers’ Tales.]
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]