Inside the Media
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To order Winning with the News Media:
Below are excerpts from the Fighting Back chapter of
Winning with the News Media
Copyright © 2005, 2001, 1999, 1996
By Clarence Jones
I'm Mad as Hell & I’m Not
When a news story is inaccurate, libelous, unfair, slanted, absurd — or just outrageously stupid, what can you do about it? In the old days, you challenged the editor or reporter to a duel. Or thrashed him (female editors were extremely rare back then) with your cane. Those techniques have gone out of style, unless you want to be the lead story in tomorrow's paper and perhaps make the wire services and network news. Great idea, if that's the kind of coverage you're looking for.
Most people react angrily, in ways that often create more bad stories, and worse public images for themselves. It may make you feel better — just as it would to punch the reporter — but in the end, you'll lose the fight.
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Complaining is Important
It is absolutely vital that you complain when you feel strongly that a newspaper, magazine, TV or radio outlet has published or broadcast an incompetent, unfair, or dishonest story.
You probably don’t want a retraction or correction. That often makes matters worse. In the correction, the reporter writes, "What I said yesterday was not exactly right. It’s actually much worse."
But if you don't complain, the error will be repeated in every future story. Once it is printed three times, the error becomes accepted fact. Almost impossible to correct.
The complaint should not be made in anger. Wait until you've cooled off to decide how you'll complain.
If this is the first time an editor or news director has received a complaint about a reporter's story, you may get no discernible reaction.
But if yours is the second or third complaint about the same person, the editor or news director will begin to wonder whether there is a problem on the staff who could get the newspaper or the station into much more serious trouble. An expensive lawsuit.
Truth, the Perfect Defense
Remember that in a libel suit, truth is the perfect defense. Editors these days are very concerned about libel suits. Jurors who feel the media abuse their power have a way to even the score.
We're not talking about small amounts here. Libel and privacy suits usually ask damages in tens of millions of dollars. So a reporter who can't report accurately is a multi-million-dollar libel suit, just waiting for the right assignment.
Editors and news directors need to know when they have a reporter who can't write truthfully. For whatever reason. It can be incompetence. It may be the inability to leave personal prejudices out of the copy. The reporter's supervisors are vitally concerned. (See INSIDE THE MEDIA/Libel)
In the same way, privacy suits are often lost because of the way the reporter or photographer acted at the scene of the story. Editors and news directors need to know if they have a staffer who likes to bully people. Someone willing to break the norms of human behavior — perhaps the law — if that's what it takes to get the story. (See STRATEGY/Ethics and INSIDE THE MEDIA/Privacy) Editors and news directors have no way to know about their employees’ inaccuracy, incompetence, or nasty behavior if you don't tell them.
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