Classic Post: 7 Things To Do When Reporters Get It Wrong

Editor’s Note: Since August 2010, I’ve written more than 560 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 8, 2010.  

It’s one of the most asked questions in my media training sessions: “Should I ever freeze a reporter out?”

When I hear that, I immediately think of a scene out of The Godfather or Fatal Attraction, complete with horse’s heads and boiled bunnies. I imagine my clients suddenly appearing as caped crusaders, exacting their revenge on unfair journalists by “rubbing them out”.

Freezing out a reporter is a dramatic step, and it often backfires. After all, don’t you think a company is guilty when a newscaster says, “We contacted representatives from the Huge Corporation, and they refused to return our calls?”

So before making a decision to blacklist a reporter, here are some remedies that may solve your problem:

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 times, you will be surprised to find that the message you hoped would get through to the audience got through.

2. Talk to the Reporter: 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 ensure 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 Online and Social Media: Cutting off access doesn’t mean you stop communicating. Instead, use online and 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.

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