Misquoted in the Media? Set the Record Straight.

Being interviewed for a news item or feature story on your area of expertise is a great way to build a professional reputation. It looks good in a Google search. It associates your esteem with that of the publication. And you can refer to the coverage in marketing materials without sounding self-aggrandizing.

But what if you’re misquoted?

As reporters rush to meet deadlines and editorial departments dwindle, your erudite articulation might come across as an arcane patois.

Communications expert Marsha D’Angelo has some advice on options to set the record straight. D’Angelo has worked with an impressive list of clients at two major public relations agencies and now teaches media relations at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“The first thing you should do is establish why the mistake happened in the first place,” she advises. “Who is at fault, you, your communications advisor (if you have one) or the reporter?”

“Let’s assume it’s a case where a lawyer believes the reporter is at fault and the error is significant. Reach out to the reporter to try to correct the error. In rare instances, a retraction could be printed, but the most likely outcome (if indeed it’s a misquote) is that the reporter will not use the misinformation in future stories.”

If the reporter doesn’t respond or you’re still not satisfied, D’Angelo suggests that you write a letter to the editor with the help of a media or public relations professional to explain and publish your point of view. 

You could also publish a post on your website clarifying what you meant to say or expanding on the topic that was discussed.

Your efforts should be proportional to the nature of the article and the scale of the mistake. On the latter point, try to keep the error in perspective. Is it truly a misquote or are you embarrassed that you don’t sound as eloquent as you really are? In an age of information overload, the article might quietly disappear. You’ll need to decide if it’s worth your time and energy to demand a correction.

D’Angelo speaks from experience when she says “Avoiding misquotes in the first placeis really the best strategy of all. Have a firm grasp on your key messages, research the journalist and learn their interview style.”

“It’s often worthwhile to invest in media training so you can rehearse how to stick to the facts without providing too much detailed or complex information (a common reason for misquotes) to a reporter”, D’Angelo says. This is especially true if you’re being interviewed for a major feature in a magazine.

The next time you’re tempted to engage in a quick interview just to accomodate a reporter meeting a tight deadline, stop. Ask about the topic and the angle. Take 10 minutes to gather your thoughts. Consider the most valuable information or advice you could offer, given your unique experience. Write down your key points. Call the reporter back and proceed with the interview. And don’t forget to keep a copy of the article or link to it from your website when it’s published.

I originally published this post in Slaw.ca, Canada’s online legal magazine, on August 27, 2014.