One of the most common complaints I hear is that a reporter misquoted someone or made an error in a story. Most of the time these mistakes aren’t a big deal and the gist of the story is correct.
But what do you do when the entire story is filled with factual errors, some of which are significant and damaging?
In my 20+ years in PR, I’ve only had three occasions when I represented clients that had been victims of grossly inaccurate stories which, if left unchallenged, would have had serious consequences. In each case we arranged a meeting with the editor and the responsible reporter(s), but after my first meeting I learned a lesson that served me well for the next two.
Before sitting down with an editor to confront irresponsible reporting, take time to carefully analyze the story and identify each factual error. Then, after quoting each erroneous statement, write an objective statement of the facts. In one case, I discovered 16 factual errors in a news story that ran on the front page of a local paper in Arizona.
When confronted with corrective facts that were stated clearly and objectively, the papers ran the equivalent of front-page corrections.
Having a document that point by point addressed each statement and then provided the facts kept the meetings focused and helped avoid emotions from taking over. Hopefully you’ll never need to have such a meeting, but should you find yourself in a similar situation having the facts on paper rather than just your head could prove to be a big help.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.