Last week I published a wrong fact on a website for which I’m responsible. I won’t repeat the inaccuracy but it was an offhand comment based on an entirely wrong assumption about someone’s work. It was part of the intro rather than the substance of the story, which is no excuse but that’s pretty much how it slipped through.
So, if someone does something like this to you, what do you do? Here are some guidelines, not to make you feel better (shouting might do that) but to get to a good resolution (which shouting probably won’t).
- Accept that a human being made a mistake. You don’t know them but there is every chance they’ll be as concerned at their error as you were. Approach them in this spirit rather than with the aim of “taking them down”.
- Try to think through what you want from the situation. An apology should be forthcoming but more importantly you want every online source referring to the wrong suggestion taken down or amended as swiftly as possible. A clarification or retraction should also follow.
- If you have a PR company or other intermediary, use them. You might well be furious, and this might be perfectly understandable but heated and sweary emails or calls are going to make people reluctant to deal with you, no matter whether they ought to or not.
- If you approach the people making the error by email, definitely don’t swear. It’s a sure fire way of ending up in their spam bucket and this might delay any constructive response.
- Remember it’s an error in a piece of writing and not a personal attack. The journalist will know they’ve done something wrong and although it may be tempting to rub their nose in it, it will rarely help. Also the chances are that if it’s a professional journalist they’ll have a means of dealing with what happens when we goof – it’s an occupational hazard, we do know mistakes will creep in. Ask about their usual procedure and see whether it will work for you.
I’d be interested to hear of approaches that have worked to salvage a situation – or approaches that haven’t worked – as comments.
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