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May 2, 2008

The Guardian’s Siobhain Butterworth offers her advice to student journos

By Dave Lee STD

Contributed by Ricki Dewsbury

Siobhain Butterworth triple checks her work – and so should student journalists.

That was her message during a guest lecture at the University of Central Lancashire on her role as the Guardian readers’ editor.

Every year she deals with some 25,000 letters, emails and calls about stories. Eighteen thousand corrections are printed.

Speaking to student journalists could be one way to encourage fact checking before we start employment. I spoke with her afterwards about it.

Siobhain: “Lecturing to students of journalism was something my predecessor Ian
Mayes did and I decided to carry on for three reasons:

1) It’s important that journalism students understand what my role is about, why it was introduced and what the Guardian’s values are, because they may be writing for or about the paper in the future. 

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2) I think that, from an ethical point of view, journalists should be honest and open about their mistakes and willing to correct them. Students need to know that when you do this the sky doesn’t fall in and all the signs are that it improves the relationship of trust with readers. 

3) Journalists are readers, or potential readers, so it fulfils my brief to open channels of communication with readers.”

How important will it be for us to correct mistakes when we get a job?

Siobhain: ‘From a practical point of view it depends, to some extent, on who you work for and what kind of journalism you do. From an ethical point of view I think its incredibly important:  readers understand that journalism is a fallible thing and that truth sometimes emerges incrementally. It’s futile for journalists to pretend otherwise and acknowledging mistakes will gain you the respect of your readers and audiences.”

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