Errors in news reporting are all too common occurrences – especially in today’s highly competitive news business where being first (rather than being accurate) with a story can give a news outlet a distinct advantage. So what’s the best way to handle these errors?
First, determine how serious the mistake is. Some errors simply warrant no action at all. Case in point: Recently, our firm was one of several quoted in a newspaper article about coaching executives on their communication skills. We were identified as a Dallas-based company instead of Houston-based. No big deal. Some mistakes can be frustrating and may even upset your management, but there’s no real damage done.
What’s more, keep in mind that if you ask for, and get, a correction, the error may be repeated along with the correction. Take a careful, objective look at what happened, and ask yourself if it’s a “go to the mat” situation.
In most cases, the best approach is to contact the reporter directly and point out the mistake. Your objective is to get the reporter to correct his notes and prevent future or follow-up stories from repeating the error. Don’t “run” to the editor first; that’s like going to someone’s boss before trying to resolve a problem directly with the co-worker who caused it. Bad protocol.
If the error is serious, you might want to request a correction, but understand that it probably won’t get the same placement and visibility as the original story. Don’t try to dictate how the correction should be handled. Tell the reporter why the mistake is damaging.
Within minutes of his telephone interview on Larry King Live, former Senator George Mitchell called back to correct factual misstatements being made about Major League Baseball’s steroid problem by another guest on the program. The polite, but assertive, correction was broadcast live.
In situations such as errors in high-profile stories, or mistakes in a series of stories (including mistakes of omission or balance), consider writing a letter to the editor or its broadcast equivalent. Reputable news organizations welcome this feedback.
In rare instances, you might even want to place an ad if there’s a dispute about what was said in an interview, or if the concerns you raise with the news outlet are ignored.
What about threatening to pull or actually pulling your existing advertising as leverage in a dispute? Or refusing future interview requests with a particular reporter or news outlet? Although we can understand why these actions are tempting (why feed the mouth that bites you?), we think there are better ways to deal with problems with the media. Consider meeting with the reporter or with the editor or news director and sharing your concerns, or contact the ombudsman if one’s available.
Successful media relations, as the term suggests, is about establishing and cultivating a good working relationship with the reporters who follow your organization. It’s an ongoing effort, and may occasionally involve working out differences of opinion, but it’s an effort worth making.