Classic Post: 5 Ways To Avoid Being Misquoted By Reporters

Editor’s Note: Since August 2010, I’ve written more than 550 posts. Some of the most popular posts have gotten buried over time, so I occasionally unbury especially useful older posts to share with readers who missed them the first time. This article was originally published on November 2, 2010.  

I spoke to a new client last week. He had given an interview to the media. The reporter misquoted him. The incorrect quote made him look like an insensitive jerk.

I hear that story at least once a month.

There’s good news and bad news for spokespersons who have suffered an infuriating misquote.

The bad news is that you can never guarantee that a reporter will quote you correctly. But the good news is that you have a lot more control than you think – and you can dramatically increase the odds that the reporter will get your story right by using the five techniques in this article.

1. Give Them The Facts

The more you say, the more you stray. A lot of spokespeople get misquoted because they say too much. Instead of spending most of your interviews providing reporters with endless background, write a one- or two-page fact sheet which lays out the basic facts.

Providing reporters with a written fact sheet in advance of your interview allows you to tell reporters what the story means rather than what it is. By doing so, your quote will contain your interpretation of the facts instead of raw facts devoid of context.

Because you’ve said less and repeatedly emphasized the meaning of the story, you’ve given reporters more opportunities not only to get your quote right, but to make it meaningful.

2. Click, Clack, Repeat

If you’re giving a phone interview, listen for the sound of typing on the other end – you’ll hear it when you say something that intrigues the reporter. That’s your cue to slow down, make sure the reporter has time to capture every word, and repeat what you’ve just said.

The same is true during an in-person interview when a reporter is scribbling notes in a notepad. When you see a reporter scribbling notes, slow down and repeat your point.

3. Click, Clack, Send

Some reporters allow interviewees to respond to questions over e-mail, which allows you to retain total control of your words. Just be sure to have a colleague check your response for unintended meanings and phrases that can be taken out of context.

Although you can use e-mail interviews occasionally, you shouldn’t rely on them too often. Your goal is to build long-term relationships with reporters – and that’s something better accomplished over the phone or in person.

4. Now, What Did I Just Say?

Although reporters are under no obligation to read your quotes back to you, many of them will. If you don’t like the way you said something, they may not change it – but if you said something factually inaccurate, they usually will. You should ask them to read back your quotes during the interview, not afterwards.

You can also offer to help the reporter fact check the finished story. If you don’t like the way the reporter framed the story, the journalist will probably not change it – but the reporter will usually correct a “fact” that’s demonstrably false.

5. Record The Interview

I generally don’t recommend recording your interviews with reporters, as it can create an unnecessarily mistrustful relationship with a well-intentioned reporter.

But if you know the interview is likely to be contentious, recording the interview can often help you, since the reporter knows you have an independent copy of the raw tape. Just be sure to disclose your intent to record the interview in advance, since many states require you to notify the other party.

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