What to do when the reporter gets it wrong?

It happens. The story goes to print or is posted online with facts that are in error, a name that is misspelled or figures that are wrong.

So how should you handle this?  Our strategy is to call the reporter and chat about it personally.  This is hard in an age of email and instant messaging, but picking up the phone and calling the reporter allows you to communicate with the right tone.

The conversation that follows should have specific goals:

  • Create a neutral environment because you will want to work with the reporter in the future.
  • Find out how the mistake was made and how it can be avoided in the future.
  • Figure out if, how and when the mistake can be corrected online or in print.

If the reporter elects not to correct the mistake, there always is the option of taking up the complaint with the editor.  The risk with this strategy is that the editor will make the change but also likely will chew out the reporter for the error.  This is a short-term gain and a long-term loss because the reporter may be less likely to work with you in the future.

One way we try to avoid this is by being a silent participant on all phone interviews.  If a mistake happens, we are able to go back to the reporter with our notes from the interview, or go back to the client with confirmation that the story reflects the interview.

No client wants to read a story about his company that contains an error but, like all of us, reporters are too young to be perfect.

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