What To Do When Media Get It Wrong
You excitedly grab the morning paper or the TV remote to see how the reporter your spokesperson interviewed with has covered your story, only to discover to your horror that the story is riddled with inaccuracies. What do you do?
The reality of today’s media is that deadline-pressured reporters make mistakes, and although we naturally want to respond with an irritated letter or abrupt phone call, such a panic-induced reaction never produces the desired result.
So, before you reach out to the reporter and demand an apology or correction, ask yourself, how bad is it REALLY? Is asking for a correction worth the risk?
The Risk of Being Right
Numerous factors should be considered before approaching a reporter for a correction.
Will a correction prolong a negative story? Sometimes the best strategy is to just let the story die a quick death. By pointing out the error, you can unintentionally stimulate a reporter’s need to defend and justify his or her take on the story, and keep a negative story in the public forefront. If you want a story to disappear, it may be best to let the error stand, especially if the error will not have long-term impact to your business or organization. Never a fun day in the PR department, but one you may need to live through.
Will the request negatively affect your relationship with the reporter? Obviously, you want to cultivate good relationships with reporters so they will hear your pitch or at least give you a fair chance to tell your story in an unplanned event. If you are pointing out an error that will be of benefit to them now or in the future, go for it. But, if you are simply nitpicking a word choice that doesn’t affect the main storyline, or insisting they promote your company, you’re just going to irritate the reporter. This is especially true if you make complaining a habit. One legitimate complaint will be heard. More than one is a great way to lose the reporter’s interest and respect. (Now, if you consistently experience inaccuracies or misrepresentation of facts, you may well need to address the issue with the editor. We’ve had to do this at Ward on two memorable occasions in our 24-year history. If you’re respected by the editor as a fellow protector of the integrity of the news business, your perspective will count and be appreciated.)
Making the Request
If you’ve considered all of the angles and decided that a correction or clarification is in order, you need to carefully hone your approach. Remember, you and the reporter have the same goal – to accurately communicate information to your audiences. Make your approach from that perspective and you’ll avoid emotionally charged situations. Do your best to:
- Keep it elegant
- Avoid back-peddling about what you’ve said.
- Be polite and respectful. The reporter is not your enemy, and errors are not intentional.
- Acknowledge, when appropriate, your role in contributing to the error using phrases such as “I apparently didn’t explain that very well” or “I should have gotten back to you earlier in the day.”
Also, when contacting with the reporter, written responses are preferable to verbal. While it may seem distant, you’re protecting yourself and communicating in a forum that allows you to take a break and re-visit what you intend to say before you hit the fatal Send button. You also help the reporter get the facts straight by providing the details in writing.
If approaching the reporter directly is not feasible, you can still address the error to your audiences through social media. But, again, keep in mind the ramifications of keeping the story alive – is it better to address it or let it go? Will anyone else notice the way you and your management did? Or is it so impactful it must be addressed?
The Bottom Line
The best way to handle an error by the news media is to stop it from happening in the first place. This occurs when you prepare for your encounter in advance, go to the interview with a strategy and key messages in mind, and communicate clearly and concisely. Well trained spokespeople who conduct the interview with the reporter’s needs in mind often make the difference in the outcome. Prevention is always the best cure.
Do you need help getting your story out accurately and frequently? Contact Ward, and we’ll help you cause it!