If I misspelled a name in an assignment for my news writing professor in college, it was an automatic F. At the time, I thought that was highly unfair, although I can tell you I never misspelled a name.
Years later, I realize the value of that assignment. Spelling a person’s name incorrectly makes we wonder what else the reporter got wrong, and I lose trust in the reporter and the publication.
Craig Silverman, editor of “Regret the Error” said academic research shows that misspelled names are the sixth most common newspaper error. He has put together an accuracy checklist to help with these errors. He notes on his site, “Checklists help reporters and editors increase their level of accuracy.”
The first thing I always do when I interview someone is ask for their business card. I never assume the spelling of a name. I’ve interviewed people named “Smith” and “Smyth” and if I had not asked, I would have spelled the name incorrectly.
“It is one of the easiest things to verify and yet it’s one of the things journalists think about verifying the least,” Silverman said. “We use names on such a frequent basis that it’s the kind of thing that lends itself to assumptions.”
Don’t rely on other sources, either. Even The New York Times gets names wrong. It’s critical to do your own research.
If you’re quoting an online source, cut and paste the name into your story. Then you know you have it right.
People want to see accuracy. If you spell a person’s name wrong, the person is likely to think of you as lazy or sloppy, and that’s not the professional image you want to convey.
Taking extra time with names is critical. Just ask anyone who has ever seen their name misspelled.