News Media

Dealing With the Media: Part 2 – 7 Tips to Combat Misrepresentation

A few months ago, there was fight in one of the high schools in the valley. Students that witnessed the fight, filmed it and posted it on social media. The fight went viral, which brought every news agency in the Salt Lake area to Cache County to fuel their next story. The different news agencies raced to be the first to report on the story, have the best perspective, and get the public to react. One of the news agencies came to interview us, and that’s where the problem began.

We told them what had happened and because of the age of the teenagers, we could not reveal many details. The reporter then asked about the Juvenile Justice System and the reason information could not be revealed. The interview ended after explaining the difference between adult court and the juvenile court.

Tip #1 – Anytime you or your organization is interviewed, make sure you watch the story on the news that night!

I watched the news that evening and was somewhat surprised at what I heard. Out of the entire interview about the fight, the only part they used from us was the part where we talked about the Juvenile Justice System and why it exists. Something was said in effect of:

Kids will be kids and they often make mistakes.

Tip #2 – Even after the interview, they are still recording any conversation that happens and will use it for their stories. The part on the Juvenile Court System came after the official interview about the fight.

The entire news report on the fight made it look like the Sheriff’s Office was downplaying the seriousness of the crime. As you can imagine, the public was not very happy about tone and message that the Sheriff’s Office seemed to have.

Tip #3 – Engaging with the public outside of your official page builds credibility and trust. Follow the story on all avenues of social media. Read all of the comments and participate where necessary to make sure people understand your official view on the topic.

I began to scan social media about the fight and discovered that people were misunderstanding the statements from the Sheriff’s Office because of how it was edited. It appeared that the Sheriff’s Office was minimizing the seriousness of the crimes. This was because the quote from the Sheriff’s Office was taken completely out of context from a moment that wasn’t about the fight or the individuals involved. I spent the next 4 hours commenting on posts made by the public to explain our position, and correct the misinformation.

Tip #4 – When responding to posts, call people by name, make it personable, and acknowledge their concern.

I began to explain that the we were disappointed in the news agency for misrepresenting our official view on the tragic event. I explained that we take these matters very seriously. The juvenile was arrested for the suspected crimes, and now it was up to the Juvenile Court to charge him if necessary. People began to thank us for clarifying our view and began to turn against the news agency calling them out on their misrepresentation of the facts. I responded to the news agency on their post explaining our concern in hope that they would respond and correct the information.

Tip #5 – Once a story has been posted, they have already moved on to another story. The news agency will rarely follow the comments, or have any desire to correct the tone of the story. Directly contacting the reporter is your best option.

After about 4 hours with no comments or communication from the news agency, it was time to get the story corrected and make sure that people understand our official statement.

Tip #6 – Twitter is your most powerful tool. It promotes transparency and it is public. Once something is posted on Twitter, it’s there for everyone to see.

I posted two tweets directly at the news agency saying that we were disappointed in how they misrepresented us and explained what our official view was. I also tagged the reporter. Within 30 minutes, we had a reply from the reporter with a cell phone number. They wanted to make everything right and were wondering what they could do. I explained how the story misrepresented our view and the reporter tried to defend their position saying that they watched the story multiple times with their editor and could not see any problems. (The media is often blind to their agendas or the message they are trying to get across. Read more about why the media does this) I then mentioned all the comments on social media where people were upset about how the Sheriff’s Office “responded” to the incident. They were clueless. The reporter was shocked that we had spent the time to clarify our view on the public’s comments and was slightly worried about the negative comments from the public made towards their agency. The reporter was also very concerned about their future creditability because of our tweets.

Tip #7 – Trust is earned. Interact with the public and your communities personally and online to gain their trust. If they know they can count on you for information, they will come to you first over the media. They will also defend you when you are misrepresented.

We were able to work out a solution, and still have a good relationship with the specific news agency. The most important thing that came from this experience is that the news agency learned we follow social media and mentions of our organization. We correct any misinformation, and actively engage in helping the public know the complete story to the best of our ability. They are less likely to misrepresent us in the future.

Tip #8 – If a news agency comes to interview you, record your own copy of the interview. Let the agency know that you will be recording. You can then post the recording to inform your followers or keep it as a record for later. If the edited news story does not accurately portray your statement, you can post the interview in its entirety so the public has the complete story. If the news reporter knows you are recording, it is less likely that your story will be altered.
News Media

Dealing with the Media: Part 1 -Message, Tone, and Facts

One of the most important things you can do is to look for and read articles about your organization or business, checking to make sure the tone, message, and facts are correctly represented. If you are incorrectly represented, you have every right to ask the agency to modify the article. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have read an article about our organization that portrays a completely different message than what we intended to give.

Why should you care?

Your reputation is on the line… Reputation is everything for your business or organization. Your product or service should be more desirable than that of your competition.  In the case of law enforcement or other public service entities, it is respect and trust from the community.  If you have these things, you will be successful and supported. You need to know what people are saying about your business.

What really happens?

Checking the message, tone, and facts will help you protect your reputation or help you realize that you have a problem that needs fixing. You have the right to ask any agency to fix an article, but they also have the right to leave it the way it was written to voice their opinion on the subject. This might help you realize that changes need to be made in your organization. Most of the time, however, the media is trying to get as many people as they can to consume their material over that of competing agencies. This leads to twists in the story, tapping into emotions, and promoting internal values or themes. More often than not, the media is not trying to misrepresent you. They are trying to be unique and get people to read their article. The original message, tone, and facts can be lost without them noticing. By simply contacting the author/reporter of the article and explaining how you were misrepresented, you allow them the chance to see your point of view and change the message to align with yours. Don’t get me wrong, the media is not always innocent in misrepresenting the original source.  It happens all the time.  Promoting their values and opinions is very important to them.

The majority of the time, you will be able to get the news agencies to work with you and correct anything that needs to be corrected. Learning to work together with the media can be a challenge, but don’t let that stop you.  A mutualistic relationship with your local news agencies will save you problems in the future and can increase your reputation, resect and support from the community.

How do you accomplish this?

My next post will cover this with specific examples.