Journalists make mistakes. Most will admit this. If humans were perfect you would never see a single typo in any newspaper, or on any TV telecast or radio website. Fact is, when the media deals with tens of thousands of words in a single day, screwups will happen.
The rush to put out a product with depleted staff means you have to assert more effort to be the fact checker. I know, that sounds backwards. But it’s reality today. Fact checking by media ain’t what it used to be.
Before you finish any media interview, you need to take the initiative to review ‘facts’ with a reporter. Most reporters will not be offended. The business of hurriedly taking notes during an interview doesn’t always result in clarity. Reviewing the ‘facts’ together is about making sure they are right. When you do so, neither party is likely to leave an interview second-guessing accuracy.
You may not put an end to any errors in media stories about your organization. After all, silly things can happen when a journalist sits down to type a story. But, one thing a journalist won’t forget is your standard for accuracy. You’ll set that tone by continually following the steps in this article.
One thing journalists don’t forget are which sources are sticklers for accuracy.
Remember, it’s not about nagging a journalist. Do it as a form of interview wrapup. Simply ask: “Can we review a few items to make sure the information is correct.” (Note: many good journalists will still take this step, but not all journalists do it today.) When you take this initiative, a good journalist will welcome your request so he/she can go back in his/her notes to emphasize these areas so they stand out and are correct.
Aside from reviewing facts, here are three most common mistakes made by journalists, and how you can ensure they get caught before they end up in print or on the air:
1. Don’t just state your name. Spell it. Every time. At the beginning. And at the end. Journalists have a habit of thinking John is spelled John, not Jon. Or that Smith is Smith when it can be Smyth. Or, worse still, that everyone in a family shares the same last name.
2. Doublecheck dollar amounts to make sure they are correct. Way too often, a journalist will mistakenly type $3000 when it should have been $30000. Zeroes have a habit of being missed by journalists and editors.
3. Review dates, times and places. It has happened many times to organizations: an event is taking place, it’s publicized by media, but the date is wrong. The organization freaks out. There are fears nobody will attend the event because the date, time or place was incorrectly reported. This error is a nightmare for organizations, yet it happens over and over again. Always, always review information about dates, times and places with a journalist.