Correcting the Record: Tips on Getting Corrections During a Crisis

Thom Weidlich 03.16.17


Convincing a publication to correct an error can be difficult in the best of times. It’s especially challenging in the middle of a crisis. But that’s when ensuring accurate information is provided is most crucial — because misinformation about an accident or other difficult situation can be dire. Here are a few tips on getting revisions during a crisis.

The guidelines for corrections are similar during a crisis as during a less-tense time. The difference is that the timeline is quicker and the stakes are higher.

First things first. Take a deep breath and analyze the situation. Make sure a correction is warranted, remembering that only factual errors — or, in some cases, grossly inaccurate interpretations of facts — require fixing. In reacting to a story that’s negative in tone, we often get too close to issues and events, and take things too personally. There is a desire to fight back; demanding a correction is seen as one way to do that. In the heat of a crisis, resist the urge to take on additional battles that you may not win.

You should also do a cost-benefit analysis about pursuing a correction. Remember that most reporters (like most people) don’t like to have to admit mistakes. Going to the mat on a minor point that has little to do with your overall goals in responding to a crisis may hurt your chances for future positive coverage. So ask yourself: Is it worth it? What was the overall tone of the story? If it’s a minor mistake, you might consider letting it go.

One factor in favor of pursuing a correction is that, with the Internet, inaccuracies live forever and get incorporated into future stories through reporters’ basic research. So correcting important information about your crisis or issue becomes key to ensuring future coverage is accurate and fair.

Reporter Relationship

One issue that will affect how you go about getting a correction is your relationship with the reporter. If you know him or her well, obviously the conversation will be easier. And you should go to the reporter first. Only escalate to the editor — or higher — if you get nowhere with the writer.

Is the mistake bad enough to go to the mat for? The most important reason to seek a correction is that the misinformation will lead the public to take a wrong action with regard to the crisis. For example, if press outlets are erroneously reporting that a “shelter-in-place” warning to stay inside during a shooting has been lifted, that is something that needs to be fixed immediately. In that instance, the media would most likely update the information by putting out new social-media messages (perhaps with “CORRECTION:” before them). Of course, if they’ve published a story already (however brief) that would require a correction.

If you can’t get a correction, there are other tacks to take. Pitch another story showing the side you felt was left out. Or write an op-ed or a letter to the editor, which is often linked in some manner to the original story and will show up in Google results and other news searches . You might also pitch a story to a competing media outlet (though it should be couched in terms of a real story, not just a complaint about the other publication).

Of course, another avenue is to simply publish the correct information on your own platforms: blog, website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, etc. In the middle of a crisis, you would probably be doing that anyway, and such material can also work its way into mainstream media coverage.

Dealing properly with this will show media outlets that you’re serious about accuracy and will fight to make sure the record is right. That may cause journalists to be more careful in general when covering you.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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