Use these 10 tips to reduce the chances of a misquote in the media

How many times have you heard someone say: "They took that out of context. I didn't really say that. That's not what the reporter called about."

Even the most seasoned communications specialist has challenging moments. During media training sessions, I ask members of the audience to raise their hands if the media has interviewed them lately; most hands in the room go up. Then, I ask then to keep their hands up if they have ever been misquoted. I have never seen one hand go down.

First of all, keep in mind that reporters are people, too. Reporters occasionally get it wrong. The bad news is that you can never guarantee that reporters will get your quotes perfectly right, or report everything that you want them to. But, the good news is that you have a lot more control than you think. You can increase your odds that the reporter will get your story right. So what can you do to prevent yourself from being misquoted?

The reporter finally called! Make sure you are the best person to talk on this subject are you the expert? If you are unsure of the content, refer the reporter to someone who could give accurate information. Hopefully that is someone in your company. If not, help the reporter find someone else, even if it is a competitor. I bet he/she will call you again.

Before taking up a lot of time, find out what the call is about and what the reporter wants to know. If you feel comfortable with content, proceed. If you want to take it on, but need to check some facts or collect your thoughts, ask when the deadline is and then call back, if possible.

Stick to the facts. Let's face it, the more you say, the more you can stray. A lot of spokespeople get misquoted because they say too much. Instead of spending most of your interview providing reporters with endless background, write a one-page fact sheet, which details the basic facts for them. Then provide the fact sheet before the interview, if possible. You can also send it afterwards. Either way, now the reporter has a source to check the facts and you can concentrate on context during the interview. This saves you time, so you don't have to explain the basics to each reporter who calls. Fact sheets also allow you to emphasize what is important to you during the call.

There are probably more telephone interviews in this town than in-person, or on-camera interviews. If you are giving a phone interview, do you hear clickety-clack on the other end? Hopefully you are saying something that intrigues the reporter and he/she is recording the information. When you hear that noise it's your cue to slow down and make sure the reporter has time to capture every word And repeat what you've just said. But, the same is true for an in-person interview, as reporters usually will scribble down notes on a notepad. When you see him/her writing, slow down and repeat what you've said.

Sending e-mails: Some reporters conduct interviews or send questions over e-mail. If you are fortunate enough to have a reporter agree to this, you will have total control of your words. Just be sure to have a coworker check your response for unintended meanings and phrases that can be taken out of context. However, you shouldn't rely on e-mail interviews all of the time. Your goal is to build long-term relationships. You can accomplish that better over the phone or in person.

Although reporters have no obligation to read your quotes back to you, many of them will. If you don't like the way you said something, they may not change it but if you misspoke and said something factually wrong or inaccurate, they will. And, you should ask them to read back your quotes during the interview, not afterwards.

If the reporter is calling about a story that has already broken, in a wire service report or elsewhere, ask the reporter if he/she will fax the story to you before you react with an on-the-record comment. It doesn't hurt to ask, and you will be better prepared or informed when you call the reporter back for the interview.

Speak in short sentences. Most newspaper articles are written for quick reading. Long sentences do not translate well in either the print or broadcast media, and wordy quotes will be edited down accordingly. If your answers get long-winded and complicated, you may not like how that editing comes out.

Speak plainly and stay away from industry or technical jargon. Jargon is open for interpretation on the other end. Imagine that you are talking to a relative or neighbor and explaining to them what you do in your field of expertise.

Always offer your availability for further clarification, fact-checking, or additional information. Encourage reporters to call back or e-mail you if they are unclear about the context of anything you have said or need further details. Then make sure you are available and respond quickly, as daily deadlines are pending for many reporters.

The best you can do to prevent errors from becoming attached to your name is to slow down and be prepared. Finally, don't expect the reporter to show you the story in advance of publication. It simply is not done. To do so is, in fact, offensive and suggests that you are attempting to control what is printed.

Marlene Olsen,, is president of Olsen & Associates Public Relations. Inc. of Reno.


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