Church or Ministry PR Crisis: Slaying the Beast of Erroneous Reporting

“I didn’t say that!”

An error has been made somewhere in the reporting process.

What should you do?

Unfortunately, journalists are humans too and subject to making mistakes just like the rest of us. If someone in your organization has made the mistake, I suggest that you read my previous post on Slaying the Beast of Open Mouth, Insert Foot. In the interest of maintaining a healthy relationship with the offending journalist as well as following a biblical prescription for a committed offense, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind if the journalist has committed the offense.

  1. Assume that the reporter has simply made a mistake and that they are not trying to burn you. Mistakes do happen so give them the benefit of the doubt. While it is their responsibility to ensure accuracy, the reality is that mistakes still creep in. As a side note, I’m not so naive to believe that there is no media bias and that sometimes “mistakes” aren’t intentional. I’ve had to deal with this on many occasions and it is frustrating to say the least. However, until you have all your facts straight, refrain from rushing toward an accusatory tone. Your demeanor has everything to do with the ultimate outcome of the problem.
  2. Immediately call and inform the reporter that a mistake has been made and request a correction. This is where your attitude and your professionalism must be impeccable. In my experience, the more professional you are in your approach, the more interested they will be in helping you. If your demeanor is demanding, you can bet their irritation will rise to meet it. If your boss insists that you come down harshly on them, you should push back and determine what he/she is really after. If he/she is really pursuing a correction, then you will have a much greater chance of success if you handle the journalist carefully, thoughtfully and professionally. Let your boss vent to you, but you should try and keep the spirit of the conversation tactful, solution-oriented and above reproach. Be the buffer.
  3. Write out a request for a correction. It is also important to copy key stakeholders within your organization so they will know that you have made the request and so that the journalist(s) will know that you are taking this very seriously. Also, ask them for a commitment in writing as to when you can expect the correction to be made.
  4. Once a correction has been made, express appreciation. It is very important that you express appreciation to the reporter and his/her immediate supervisor for their responsiveness and sensitivity to the issue.
  5. Circle back and inform key leaders that the media outlet(s) have cooperated. Depending on the severity of the misstatement, the leadership within your organization may be holding its breath and feeling angst while you work toward resolve. You owe it to them to be prompt and concise in your report on the status of the situation.
  6. Consider posting the entire saga on your own website. In the event that the offending journalist or outlet doesn’t play nicely, your audience may need to know the facts and sense that you’ve been diligent to get the matter resolved. In some cases it will be important and necessary for you to post a play-by-play recap.

In the end, if the offending entity behaves and sets the record straight, do your best to celebrate that and express appreciation to them. They need to be affirmed in your sphere and circle of influence.

However, if they do not behave (been there and it’s no fun), then your knowledge and first-hand experience that the media is truly biased and occasionally unprofessional will have been 100% confirmed.

Welcome to media relations.

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