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Catching fabrication in stories requires attention to detail

January 3, 2013 By Gerri Berendzen Resources

As an editor, if you suspect plagiarism, you can use Google as an investigative tool. Things aren’t as simple, though, if you suspect fabrication in a story.

Bill Connelly, a retired senior editor at The New York Times, said that “while the Internet has no doubt made the plagiarist’s crime both easier to commit and easier to catch, it has performed no such miracle for (or to) the fabulist.”

Connelly’s “Jimmy’s World” training session, a regular feature at ACES national conference, is aimed at helping editors who work with original copy spot and prevent fabrication disasters.

Catching fabrication  – no matter the platform – still requires diligent attention to detail and a healthy dose of skepticism. Connelly says there’s no foolproof fabrication-detection system, but there are some useful approaches for a copy editor:

● Ask the basic questions: “Says who?” “How do we know this?”

“It’s harder to make things up if you have to name a source or explain how information surfaced,” Connelly said.

● Watch for inconsistency, even in the tiniest details. It’s inconsistency that’s most likely to expose the fabulist.

● Ask yourself constantly whether this tale makes sense. Does it conform to your understanding of how the world works?

● Remember that people always act in what they perceive to be their own self-interest. If people are described as acting in illogical ways, be very wary.

Editor’s note: This article originally was published in the Sept.-Oct., 2012 ACES newsletter.

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