Friday, July 6, 2012

What To Do When The Media Gets it Wrong

The late writer and journalist Nora Ephron once wrote, “Journalists sometimes get things wrong.” That notion was in full, agonizing display last week after CNN and Fox News misreported the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare.

The mistakes were embarrassing for the cable networks and chipped away at their credibility, but they weren’t harmful to the Supreme Court. Quickly, both networks corrected their reporting and moved on. (CNN apologized for the gaffe; Fox News was defiant.)

But what happens when shoddy reporting does harm to a person or individual? Mitt Romney, for instance, claims that a recent story in The Washington Post about his tenure at Bain Capital is incorrect. The story revealed that Bain helped fuel the outsourcing trend in the ‘90s—something the Obama Campaign has seized upon in attack ads, referring to Romney as the “outsourcer in chief.”

Romney’s campaign met with Post editors last week to ask for a retraction. The paper refused the request. Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he’s “confident in its reporting.”

Not saying the Post got it wrong, but if it did, and if a similar situation happened to your company or client, meeting with a paper’s editors is among the appropriate steps, according to media trainer Brad Phillips. In a PR Daily post that ran in September 2011, Phillips explained the seven things to do when the media gets it wrong:

1. Show it to a neutral party. It’s an age-old truth: The closer you are to a news story, the more likely it is you will think it’s a negative story. Ask neutral parties to read, listen to, or watch the story and give you their views. Often, you will be surprised to find that the message you hoped would get through to the audience got through.
2. Talk to the reporter. Remember, reporters need access to sources to do their jobs, and good reporters are willing to hear their sources’ objections to a story (they may not agree with you, but they usually listen). Call the reporter, and ask if he or she is on deadline—if so, ask to schedule a time to call back. When you speak, remain polite regardless of his or her response. You will get a better reaction to a discussion about objective factual errors than subjective differences of opinions.
3. Write a response. In print journalism, you almost always have forums available to you for a response, such as a letter-to-the-editor or op-ed. If it’s an option, use it. Don’t repeat the original errors in reporting, since it just gives those errors more airtime—just articulate your point of view.
4. Speak to the editor. If you’ve gotten nowhere with the reporter, it may be a good idea to raise your objection with the reporter’s boss to insure he or she is aware of your complaints. Who knows? Perhaps you’re the fourth person to complain about the same reporter in a week. There is a downside here: no one likes to be complained about, and the reporter may take it out on you through future news coverage.
5. Respond with statements only. If it has become abundantly clear to most independent observers that the news organization in question is irrevocably biased against you or your organization, you have two choices: cut off all access, or respond with precision. I almost always recommend the latter option, which means sending a short written statement in response to a reporter’s query.
6. Cut off all access. The only time I ever recommend cutting off all access is when you can honestly say that there is nothing to be gained by speaking to the reporter. Those cases may exist, but they are rare. Most of the time, good media management means finding solutions to working with the press—not avoiding them altogether.
7. Use social media. Cutting off access doesn’t mean you stop communicating. Instead, use social media to continue communicating with your key audiences—through all available channels, including your company website and blog, and your corporate YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

-Michael Sebastian- PR Daily

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