Have you ever read a story after being interviewed and thought, “Hey, I never meant that!” Or, “that reporter put words in my mouth!” One of the biggest sources of corrections and/or clarifications by media comes as a result of sloppy reporting via paraphrasing. This is often where people feel their thoughts have been inaccurately reported. Reporters create paraphrasing after reviewing their notes, and by recalling conversations with you at the time.
Be on guard for a common red flag that can result in a reporter putting words in your mouth. You want to be cautious with reporters who set the stage for their ultimate question by embarking on long-winded, scenario-type questions. Also beware reporters who create ‘scenarios’ based on their own opinions. These interviewing techniques often conclude with the reporter asking, “What do you think about that?” or something of that nature.
You immediately put yourself at risk of being inaccurately paraphrased if you nod your head, say “yes” or “I think so” or “perhaps” or . . . well, you get the picture. Some reporters will accept a slight gesture as agreeing to whatever he/she just asked you.
If you are NOT comfortable with the ‘questioning’, ask the reporter: “Can you ask your question in a more direct way?” This is a simple technique to control an interview and rein in a reporter.
And to be sure you are only answering what you want to answer, include the pertinent portion as the lead-in to your answer (ie. If there is a city-wide strike come Monday morning, we will do everything we can to minimize the impact on residents).
Avoiding having words put in your mouth is about identifying reporters who try to put their words in your mouth during an interview.