Retract that! How – and when – to seek a correction

Let’s face it, everyone makes mistakes – even journalists. From minor oversights like a misspelled name or botched title to egregious errors (remember the unfortunate Obama Bin Laden headline?), it’s human nature to slip up every now and then. However, that doesn’t mean you have to take it on the chin if you’re on the receiving end of an error. Here are some quick tips for knowing how and when to ask a reporter to make it right:

-          Is it really wrong? First, ask yourself this question and answer honestly. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone complain about a story and even toss around the word “retraction” (which, for the record, is far more serious – and harder to come by – than a correction) only to discover that they were reacting to the tone of the article. While you may not like what a reporter chooses to write, you aren’t entitled to a correction unless the piece contains inaccurate information. If you feel a story is unbalanced or unfair, consider a follow-up conversation with the reporter or editor or submit a letter to the editor to share your side. But don’t hold your breath for a correction.

-          To correct or not to correct? Let’s say your company  is the subject of an unflattering article that contains inaccurate information. Do you contact the reporter to set the record straight, which could result in a follow-up story that rehashes the negative news, or keep quiet and hope it goes away? While a head-in the-sand approach may be tempting, consider that published reports are often treated as the official record of fact. Information is recycled for future coverage and even quoted by other outlets and bloggers. In this age of Google alerts and online stories that fill search engine results for months, it’s important to set the record straight so the misinformation doesn’t get republished again and again.

-          Go straight to the source. If you do find a legitimate error in a published report, go straight to the reporter to politely set the record straight. Going directly to the reporter – rather than his or her editor – helps build a relationship  and provides an opportunity to amplify facts that might be useful in future coverage. Some media outlets also offer formal channels for requesting a correction if your initial outreach is unsuccessful.

-          Be Prepared to Prove It. Sometimes getting a correction requires more than a polite request. Be prepared to prove that the story was wrong by sharing accurate information or offering up official sources.

-          Turn lemons into lemonade. Whether your efforts to set the record straight are successful or not, consider how you can leverage the mistake into additional exposure. Submit a letter to the editor to correct the error and share additional information to clarify your position or raise awareness of your cause. Well-crafted opinion pieces provide the opportunity to tell your story…in your own words.

Setting the record straight can be frustrating, however most reporters genuinely care about getting it right. That’s why I found this example of a New York Times reporter’s dedication to accuracy so impressive. While this may be the first – and only – correction devoted to a My Little Pony character, it’s striking in both its humor and sincerity. Now if only every error made us smile as much as this one!

 

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