Corrections and Retractions: A PR Challenge from All Angles

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 8.13.00 AMMargie recently wrote about the importance of PR pros learning from our mistakes. We aren’t the only ones, of course. Reading this excellent post from Scientific American is a good reminder that top professionals from any discipline are bound to stumble from time-to-time.

Correcting factual errors in journalistic pieces is a delicate task. Clients, of course, quickly pick up on even the smallest mistakes and often ask us to demand a correction or retraction.

Although it’s tempting to expect perfection from the person telling your story, like anything else in business, it’s best to consider the return on effort before requesting a correction.

I once helped a reporter at a top U.S. daily newspaper gather info about student financial aid for a university I represented. The article did a wonderful job explaining need-based student aid and represented the university positively. The school’s financial aid director noted, however, that the reporter had apparently confused her school’s aid allocations with that of another school.

While any mistake is unfortunate, that small discrepancy would hold little sway over the average reader. In the end, I convinced her the relationship with the reporter was worth more than a correction.

The art of correction is one we all must learn – both as the corrected and the corrector.

Here’s my list of four considerations before asking for a correction or the ultimate – a retraction:

  1. Is it really factually wrong or do you disagree with the perceived tone or slant? If factually wrong, proceed to point #2. If you’re concerned a bias may exist, the standard of proof is high and you should be prepared to offer consistent examples of the offense.
  2. Is the error significant? Does it damage your reputation or risk lowering your stock value? If not, a request for a correction may damage an otherwise healthy reporter relationship. If yes, proceed to point #3.
  3. Can you reach the writer/reporter directly? It’s always best to start with an appeal directly to the reporter—rather than his editor—and avoid confrontation. Remember, we all make mistakes. There’s a very good chance the error was an honest one.
  4. If the reporter resists and you feel absolutely certain of your response to questions 1 and 2, the next step is to contact the editor. But be warned: an editor’s first instinct is to trust a reporter’s judgment, so you should come prepared with reliable proof.


Of course, if the thought of reaching out to a reporter to fix an error makes your stomach churn, give us a call. We’re here to help!

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