Behind every article, there are a few—-sometimes many—-fact-checking dramas you’ll never catch wind of in the final draft.
You think your story’s done. Then, you spend two hours selecting one word. Seriously.
Case in point: This week’s column provided a mystery so perplexing, and soooo unending, we ultimately employed four City Paper staff members and spoke to three DC Preservation Review Board employees to gather information.
Whether a certain road was named “Acker Place” or “Acker Street.”
Allow me to provide a roughly 15-day timeline:
Late July: I start working on this story, which is about a woman who is the victim of a mortgage foreclosure rescue scheme. She tells me she lives on Acker Place NE. I confirm this on Google Maps.
Later July: I look up the house on DC Citizen Atlas Real Property Search. Again, it’s on Acker Place NE.
Even later July: I print out a bunch of deeds, foreclosure notices and other public real estate documents. They curiously name the address as “Acker Street.”
Latest July: I send a note to City Paper staff photographer Darrow Montgomery about where he should go to shoot a photo for this story. I write Acker Street. He can’t find Acker Street on any map. There goes Ruth, getting it wrong, he thinks.
Early August: I send in my first draft—-using Acker Street—-and go on vacation.
First Week of August: I hike. I eat. Complications cease.
August 10, midday: City Paper managing editor Andrew Beaujon reads my story, does a quick fact-check for Acker Street, and finds Acker Place instead. He notifies Assistant Managing Editor Erika Niedowski about the perceived error. She notifies me.
August 10, late afternoon: Photog Darrow Montgomery goes to shoot our lead character Anita O’Brien at her home on Acker _____. The street signs say Acker Street. But O’Brien’s mail says Acker Place. She says to call it Acker Place. Also: A little plaque on a neighbor’s property says the home is on Acker Place.
August 11: With our deadlines looming, I put in a call to the Historic Preservation Review Board for assistance. First, I leave a message for staffer Steve Callcott. Then, I call office spokesperson Anita Hairston, as to preempt him saying “Call Anita first please.”
Later August 11: Steve Callcott calls me back and recommends that I speak with Amanda Molson in his office.
Before 3 p.m., August 11: Here’s where my notes get a little blurry. One of the HPRB staffers re-checks city records and notes that the block is called “Acker Place.” Amanda Molson and I chat, and she looks up original building permits for properties on the road. Most buildings were constructed in the early 1890s on “Acker Street,” she tells me. She sends me the document.
DECISION-MAKING TIME: Erika, Darrow and I weigh the evidence. Historically, the block is Acker Street, but according to city records and mail and select residents, it’s Acker Place.
So that’s what we chose.
Wrong decision? You judge. We’re tired here.
Image by Darrow Montgomery