July 14, 2007

What happens when you're misquoted?

Following up on preparing for an interview, it's important to note that, even with excellent preparation, you may be misquoted or find a factual error in the article. In fact, it's very likely.

When a journalist is taking notes over the phone, it's difficult to write everything down exactly as you said it. Even when interviewing in person, it's not easy. And then there are those personal filters.

I remember reading an article a few years back where I apparently said "terrific" a whole bunch of times in the interview. Now I may have said "cool" or "rockin'" or "fabulous," but "terrific" is just not a word I use. This journalist had filtered my words through her unconscious thesaurus and had attributed content to me that wasn't mine. Did I have a fit about it? No, because people reading the article would never know the difference.

Of course, when my web address has been misspelled, or there's been an egregious factual mistake, I have definitely said something and asked for a correction.

If you think you can head off errors by asking to see the article before it's published, don't bother. A journalist doesn't need your permission or approval to publish the piece - it's not an advertisement that you've paid for and can control. Journalists cannot be influenced by their sources to change their stories - their job is to remain objective and credible by telling a story based on their own research and interpretation of the facts.

If you're lucky, the writer will send you your quotes or any complex data for fact-checking, and that is a wonderful courtesy (one that was recently extended to me by Men's Health magazine). But don't ask to see the piece before it's published; that is generally considered poor etiquette.

However, there's some debate about this - here's an interesting article at the American Journalism Review telling both sides of the story.

Remember, mistakes are likely to show up in articles you've interviewed for. Try not to take it personally, and realize that the readers will never know what's not correct. So unless it's a really big factual error, just let it go.

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