Media contacts are obviously important tools for any public relations department when it comes to promoting an event, product, or company. But any combination of inaccurate information, misleading statements, simple ignorance, or conflicting political agendas on the media’s part can also stamp out all the work that your company has put into building something special. Unless public relations professionals fight back, they’ll become just another media victim.
It has often been said that the media has more interest in getting a story fast, as opposed to getting it right. With todays’ technological advances, this has never been more true. Wire stories once moved across teletype machines and terminals. They now move across computer screens around the world. A wire story can change radically from the first to the fifth filing. Facts can change, quotes can disappear, and the entire tone of a story can be altered. If you’ve read only the first version of the story, you may never get the whole story.
When it comes to newspapers, deadline pressure and editing often change a story. I’m not happy to admit it, but over the years, some of my stories came out radically different than originally intended, once they were sent through the editing mill. On more than one occasion, because I was covering very specific subjects where readers needed some semblance of background information to understand the importance of new developments, my stories came out unreadable. If your company was the subject of this story, you would not be happy. Those who got “burned” either by my editors–or my inability to write a story at a certain length–often expressed their disappointment.
Television, radio, and other live media formats are often the worst offenders in creating “media spin.” Cable news and radio talk shows are rarely home to standards any legitimate journalist would call acceptable. Hosts always get in the last word, and it’s often one that is aimed at ignoring the truth. So how do public relations pros fight back in this type of environment? Here are some tips to avoid becoming another media victim:
Contact the reporter and his editor and lodge your complaint immediately. Ask for a correction if applicable.
Contact the opinion/letters desk at the publication, inform them that you will be sending in a letter about your article, and ask whether they would consider it for publication.
Inform a reporter at a competing publication of the problem and see if they would be interested in writing a story about your situation.
Put out a press release outlining the problems with the story.
Inform employees, clients, partners, customers, etc. of the story and tell them why the story is inaccurate.
The goal here is to get the truth out and do so in a way that doesn’t alienate you from your media contacts. It’s more important that you express concern about misleading information without seeming vindictive or petty. People, even your media contacts, do make mistakes. But with the stakes higher in the media, corrections and admissions are harder to come by. You must be proactive and forceful without being self-defeating.
When do you ask for a correction? You should only ask for a correction or retraction when there is material information in a story that is inaccurate or untruthful. If you have been misquoted to the point where it is detrimental to your company, you should ask for a correction. If, however, you don’t like a quote made by a third-party regarding your company, you’re out of luck. If the tone of an article or report doesn’t suit you, tough. Write a letter to the editor.
Editors do not like running corrections, for obvious reasons. And reporters will always do their best to avoid letting their editors know they’ve made mistakes. If you honestly feel a correction to a story is warranted, you need to pursue it as far up the chain of command as possible. Try the reporter first, then the editor, then the editor-in-chief. If that fails, try the publisher.
Is it easy to obtain corrections? No.
Recently, I read a wire story that contained inaccurate information. The story claimed that the terms of a corporate deal had not been announced, when they had indeed been announced in a press release. Though I have no connection to the company in question, I emailed the reporter. No correction came, and I was told the information in the original press release was “not material” to the story. I was appalled but not surprised.
In the end, the media still controls the airwaves and the printing presses. Yes, we have blogs and independent publishers now, but they’re just another form of the media. Many of them rely on traditional media reporting as the basis of their own commentary.
When I published an independent news website, I was more than happy to print corrections if need be. And I always ensured that readers could actually see the correction. I felt this was the best way to serve the reader, which is one of the tenants of practicing good journalism.
Unfortunately, if you haven’t noticed, practicing good journalism isn’t at the top of many people’s lists these days. You have to be vigilant with your media contacts and monitor media coverage of your company or client closely. Otherwise, you’ll end up as just another media victim.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.