Unfortunately, there’s no 12-step program to help the innocent victims of inaccurate or inflammatory media reports get their lives back on track.
In fact, there’s even a school of thought that advises said victims to pretend such reports never happened. Many a public relations professional may insist that verbal paralysis is the only answer. In a way, it is, since you’ll need all the extra energy you can muster to consistently step around the elephant in the room. Polite company will gingerly join you in the game of soft shoe, if only in the hopes that, someday, you’ll return the favor when that elephant changes masters.
Now, this particular school of thought believes going on the offensive will not only damage your relationship with the news reporter but maybe even something worse: Get you crossed off the short list of notable sources.
That said, welcome to the other school of thought. Here, dealing with media is a contact sport. Erroneous news reports must be dealt with, in order to set the record straight. Remember, uncorrected factual errors live on in perpetuity as a matter of public record. News reports that take liberties with your reputation aren’t good for business, nor will they make your mother happy. Sometimes, media types forget the copy they’ve written, edited and made to fit in some space or time is actually about real people. Sometimes, media types need to be reminded to play fair, because it’s easy to get delusional with the power of being a member of the press.
Herewith, the rules for getting the final say.
Letter to the Editor: Be clear, be concise and be timely. If the article ran today, get the letter to the editor today. State your case and clear the record without repeating the error in your letter. Prove your points, but don’t make accusations. News reports change hands many times before a story ends up in print or on the air, so don’t assume it was the reporter’s error. Make it the media outlet’s fault.
Op.Ed.: It’s short for opposite the editorial. Op.Ed.s are usually about 700 words. Feel you need that much space to rectify the situation? OK, do it. But remember to turn the piece around quickly to ensure its best chance to get to the public. Query the op.ed. editor first, to see if they’ll run it. If the answer’s less than an emphatic “yes,” reconsider writing a letter. You’ll save yourself time in the long run. If you’re really into getting your opinion piece out there, query another media outlet (in general, reach out to one that has greater reach than the one that did you wrong) and write the piece without mention of the erroneous article. Just make it timely. And, write it backwards. Throw out everything your English teachers taught you. State your case, then build your argument. See? Backward.
Corrections: Significant factual errors are corrected by all media outlets, you just have to prove the significance. And find the right person to talk to to get the correction. That can be the tricky part.
Complaints: Yes, you do have the right to complain. Newspapers are a forum for public discourse; radio and television have FCC licenses which mandate, to some extent, accountability to the public. (Remember, you own the airwaves, but not cable.) You may want to start with the reporter, if you truly don’t know what went wrong. Just be professional. You don’t like people screaming at you, do you? If you really think the reporter did a spectacularly bad job, call the editor, news director, managing editor, or editor in chief. Don’t call the publisher, the president or anyone else with a fancy title without a desk in the newsroom.
Direct Mail: You have the ear of your audience every time you send a letter or newsletter. Address the issue directly to your customers and clients. Don’t allow an opportunity to go by that allows them to lose some faith in you or your company.
Web site: If you have a web site, you have the ability to get your message out to the world, very quickly. Choose your wording carefully. Reread it. Hit send.
Public Speaking: Use your visibility to set the record straight. Face-to-face communication remains the most effective medium for telling a story, so tell yours.