Howard Kurtz's article about interviews in yesterday's Washington Post got me thinking about how we can protect ourselves from being misquoted. The bottom line: often you can't. The best defense is not to say anything stupid, but, as we all know, that's not always possible. :>)
What should you do to protect yourself from being misquoted when you are interviewed? I've been misquoted, and I'm sure most people who've been interviewed have been surprised at how little of what they said was used, or the context in which is was used.
Here are some tips on protecting yourself in interviews, in which I consider both mainstream reporters and bloggers to be journalists:
- It's ok to turn down an interview as long as you don't say, "No Comment."Don't agree to be quoted if you're angry, extremely emotional or not up to speed on an issue. It's fine to say, "I may not be the best person to interview on this topic."
- feel free to tape your interviews so you have a transcript if you believe there an accuracy issue is possible or likely.That's not the same as asking to see the story in advance, which few reporters would agree to. It's just asking that your quotes be accurate. You can't control the context.
- ask the reporter to fact check your quotes. Just yesterday I caught an error in the fact check on an upcoming article in which I'm quoted, even though the original interview was done via email.
- ask the reporter the premise to her/his story. They'll almost always tell you. That gives you a chance to say no, or to shape your comments to how they might be used.The waters are dangerous, nonetheless. "I was not misquoted. I was used to make a point Rutenberg wanted to make before he talked to me." Jay Rosen, writing about being quoted in the NY Times.
- if you are worried about the topic or the reporter's bias, stick to email.
- ask the reporter to publish his/her notes as background to the story. Some Businessweek reporters do this, and so do increasing numbers of mainstream media.
- don't say anything you wouldn't want quoted when you talk to a reporter. (Sounds easier than it is!)
- recognize that anything you say in email to a reporter is fair game these days for being included in a story
Beware the stealth interview
- Everything you say can come back to haunt you. Online, everything is forever. Comments you make on blogs, in forums, in social media groups, etc., will all show up in searches on your name. Think twice before you hit "submit" or "send."
There IS such a thing as bad publicity.
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