Friday, September 14, 2007

How To Avoid Being Misrepresented In The Media

By Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP - International Business Speaker

Being misrepresented in the media is one of the major threats in dealing with the media.

People who haven't had a lot of media experience often get burnt.

They have a meeting or an interview with a journalist, perhaps at a coffee shop, and as they leave the coffee shop they make a throw away line to the journalist.

That throw away line then becomes the headline of the story (and remember that 85 per cent of the impact of a story is in the headline).

When they see that story being published or broadcast by the media they then get very disappointed and again it just reaffirms their negative image, their negative relationship and fear of the media.

So when misrepresentation does occur, how can you overcome it and how can you avoid it?

Well the most important thing is to understand how misrepresentation happens.

In media analysis, there are three key things you need to know;

- You need to understand that the media re-presents reality as images, texts, symbols. Reality does not equal what you see, read or view in the media.

- The whole process of reporting a story, involves a process known as mediation. This often changes the meaning and the message of the story. It changes it from reality to what we see in the world through the media.

- And then the third impact of the media is known as agency, or how your story will be treated by individual media outlets. That is the economics, the politics and the culture of the media organization will impact on how the story is reported. So how the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports on a story will be different to how the Special Broadcasting Corporation reports on a story which will also be different to how the Wall Street Journal reports on a story.

So all these factors are at work. But there are three main causes of misrepresentation;

1: THE INFORMATION IS WRONG AT THE ORIGINAL SOURCE

You actually get it wrong.

You get a phone number wrong, you get a contact detail wrong or you get an important fact or statistic wrong.

The most high profile example from Western Australia I can think of was in the last state election held in 2005, where the then opposition leader Colin Barnett proposed to build a canal from the Kimberley in the North-West of Western Australia to Perth in order to bring water down south and solve Perth's water crisis.

At the media conference held to announce the costing of his canal concept, two days before the election, the savings document he presented was more than $200 million out. This ruined his credibility and had a major impact on his ability to get elected. Although he could not recover from this faux-pax, Colin Barnett did the best thing he could given the situation and accepted responsibility, ‘It's done through my office but I am the person, I accept responsibility for it,' he said (ABC 2007).

2: THE JOURNALIST MAKES THE MISTAKE

Journalists are human, they do make mistakes and they make mistakes in representing the facts or your message.

How do you overcome that. Well, you prepare a written media statement, media release or news release and you give that to the media. A media release is a stylized piece of writing containing quotes, facts and relevant news. Always double check your media release so there are no mistakes.

Another way of overcoming misrepresentation is to ring up the journalist who has interviewed you and get the quotes checked to ensure they are accurate.

In Australia, this is generally an accepted practice and journalists do not mind if you ring up to check the accuracy of quotes (this does vary with journalists however). It is not acceptable in Australia however, to ring up and ask to see a copy of the story before it is published or broadcast. An Australian journalist will not do this.

3: IT GETS CHANGED INCORRECTLY IN THE PRODUCTION PROCESS.

Somewhere in the process of taking the story from the written form of the journalist into the actual newspaper or television final media product, a mistake is made.

The mistake is not made by the journalist in writing the story but by the sub-editor or producer or someone else involved in the production process.

If the error is serious you can ask for a formal apology in the media.

So, there are three ways misrepresentation can occer and some ways on how to avoid them.

If you are interested in learning more about the media, come to our Writing & Pitching Winning Media Releases Course on September the 18th. Book now.

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