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What if the Reporter Gets it Wrong?

Updated: May 8

Have you ever been misquoted? Or, for some other reason, felt dissatisfied with a story in which you appeared?

In a recent post, we offered tips on avoiding a negative PR outcome. Follow them.

But sometimes mistakes still happen. Reporters are human too. So what do you do if a reporter gets things wrong?

Once the story runs, if you notice something that is actually, factually inaccurate or an error, let the reporter know politely and as quickly as possible, request a correction. (Sometimes a publication also has a dedicated email address for corrections.)

Even if I know who the editor is on a story, I usually start by emailing only the reporter, without copying their editor. Think of how you feel when someone cc's your boss. The reporter will likely discuss the request with their editor anyway.

But don’t just tell them it’s wrong and leave them hanging, or require them to ask you or hunt for information. In the same email, provide SPECIFIC change instructions (e.g., line edits or a proposed alternate version) that will help the reporter correct the inaccuracy as quickly and easily as possible.

Now, if you simply don't like the exact language used, or the tone of the article as it was ultimately written—while you can of course still ask politely, and try to persuasively plead your case—you are, mostly likely, out of luck.

The majority of reporters, certainly at top tier publications, are professional and fair. And the benefits of editorial PR far outweigh its risks.

If the reporter disagrees that something rises to the level of factual inaccuracy and is refusing to correct, at that point you might consider pulling in their editor. But, again, odds are they already have.

The reporter's job is to investigate and digest all facts and other factors, and then report the story—yes, objectively, but still as they understand and perceive it, based upon their experience and professional judgment. You may not have written the story in exactly the same way, but—unless you can make a case that it’s factually inaccurate—you may never trust or work with that reporter again, but that may be the extent of your remedy.

In these cases, it can be difficult to accept the fact that there is nothing you can do—especially if you are genuinely convinced that the reporter misquoted, or at least meaningfully misrepresented you, e.g., with somehow loaded language, subtle implication or tone.

This kind of experience can unfortunately make some people feel "burned" by PR, and unwilling to take a risk again—but I hope not. On the rare occasion that I've experienced this, I've certainly steered clear of that reporter for my clients again, but the majority of reporters, certainly at top tier publications, are professional and fair. And the benefits of editorial PR far outweigh its risks.

If you are new to PR, and a perfectionist to boot, you may simply be suffering from "source remorse." This sudden onset of doubt, regret and second-guessing (about exactly what you said, and how others may misinterpret or judge it) is natural, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

Try to remember that, while the end result may not be perfect, it is probably not as objectively bad as it feels.

And while it may seem like a small consolation now, your comfort level and the quality of your coverage will no doubt also improve with each interview you do.

-Tania Zamorsky Founder, Zamo PR


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