What happens when you are misquoted by the press? This is a really interesting one. And people hate the media, they hate journos, and part of it is they feel like they’re gonna be misquoted. They feel like they’re gonna be misrepresented. So what happens to you when you do an interview and you’re misquoted?

I was just talking with a colleague of mine this morning, actually. Just doing a round of interviews and we’re listening to watching him in the media, listening and reading online, and he just emailed me with a lot of frustration that he’d just been interviewed by the Australian and was misquoted. Now that’s not the end of the world, and I think people feel very powerless with the media: ‘They’re gonna misquote me. They’re gonna do the wrong thing by me.’

As an ex-journo myself. I’m not scared of the media or journal. So we are very fast in picking up the phone, and talking and fixing things. I think step one, for people who are terrified of the media, you get interviewed and you can see the misquote online and you do nothing about it. You just sit back and hate the media. So I think the first thing I’d be doing, if you’ve misquoted online, get on the phone and fix it, get on the phone to that journo and say, ‘Hey Simon, think you got that wrong. I never said that. Or I didn’t say that in that way.’ so if you’re dealing with things in parenthesis and you know those words would never come out of your mouth, say, ‘Hey, Simon, change that quote. I think that’s inaccurate.’

I think it’s clever when you’re being interviewed in the press for you to hit record somewhere as well. So a lot of the interviews that you’ll do will be on the phone, just put it on speaker and hit record yourself. And now if you’re going live radio, that’s obviously a waste of time, but if you’re being interviewed as a pre-record, record the interview, so you’ve got a manuscript to go back. It’s so, so common for people to say they’re misquoted. You can get on the phone and fix misquoting and that’s easy to do.

Now, if the reporter doesn’t wanna do it. Ask for the news editor, ask for the chief of staff, kick up a fuss. Say, ‘Hang on a minute. Happy to do the story. I get that. It’s not gonna be all of my views out there that there are other views. But the very basics is to quote me correctly. Now that’s a misquote and I’ve got a transcript here. So I can verify that.’ We get things changed online all the time that are inaccurate. So be proactive in getting on the phone.

Now, the legal system is waiting for those who have got the money to use the legal system. An amplification of that would be, ‘Okay, well, I’ve got a solicitor with me, or I’ve got a lawyer with me. Sorry to play hardball, but I really want that quote changed cause it’s not accurate. We don’t wanna be sending legal letters and things cause it costs us both money, but happy to, if I have to.’ The only thing I’ve ever seen stop a newsroom is when the lawyers start calling. No one likes it and, you know, newsrooms are struggling for money. They don’t wanna spend money on defending themselves. It’s much easier just to retract. So that’s a very fast way to get moving.

Now, we were with an industry group just recently on talking about crisis media management, and the hand goes up pretty quickly from one of the people there who hate the media—and I get that that’s the forum that we work in—and just did a big interview and was misquoted. And then I explored a little bit deeper. There’s misquoting in that this is an inaccurate quote; it can be changed. Or these facts are inaccurate; they can be changed. Make phone calls and get those changed. No journo wants to be inaccurate. They’re happy to change things. Print’s gonna be harder, obviously. Online can be changed. Things that are inaccurate that have been posted for television and radio: audio scripts can be changed that are posted online; television clips can be taken offline. So there can be some redress for you.

The way you can’t be helped is when you interview yourself as an interviewee in such a shambolic way that you’ve just given news angles, and you’ve just given info that you shouldn’t be giving. You shouldn’t be surprised that that that’s being used; that’s on you. So I think too many interviewees, and people who are talent in the press, can quite easily blame the journo, when the facts really are: you’ve interviewed so broadly across so many different subjects, you’ve given them so many different news angles to use. Of course they’ve used one that’s not flattering for you.

This, for us, comes back to your interview technique, or basic 101 of media training: When you’re on the phone with a journal warming up for an interview, and they’re trying to talk you into an interview, let’s say you are pitching, you’ve gotta be on message. Then when you get into the interview itself, you’ve gotta be on message. Then when you say goodbye at the end, walk into your cars or about to hang up on the phone, be on message. At any point, if you’re off message from the ‘Hello, nice to meet you,’ to the ‘Goodbye, see you later,’ if any point you go off your message that could become the new news.

Now, one of the classics when you’re a working journo, so many times before the interview, the talent say to you, ‘Well, I can’t talk about this because of all of these reasons,’ and that’s the real story. The bit that you are not prepared to talk about is the real story. Then you do an interview which is quite beige and boring thereafter; that’s what you prefer to get out there. Well, if that’s the case, don’t ever mention the real story. Don’t mention the real story before the interview, during, or after the interview, because whether you’re on mic or not on mic—on or off record or whatever it is—you’re leaving yourself open to the journo using the juicier part of the content that you’re providing.

So you’ve gotta remember that so many times the best interviews are happening, and they’re not recorded, but that info’s gonna be used. So be smart when you’re dealing with the press: you are on the whole time, stay on your message the whole time even if it means repeating yourself. Even if it means you feel like you’re offending the journal because you’re not answering their questions, that’s fine. Because your reputation’s more important than some false feeling of offense during a five-minute interview. They’re using you to impress their chiefs of staff and their news editors to get content out there. You’re using them, absolutely, so you can increase your profile, strengthen your brand, and be seen as an industry leader.

So you’re playing the game. It’s war without weapons, but you must focus on the issues, not the personal. So don’t get into this lovely personality who’s quite influential that wants to drag all this info out of you. Just don’t get into it. Just stay on your messaging for the whole interview. Then you’re less likely to have things published that you’re not happy with, and you’re less likely to be quoted because you’re quite determined just to stay on message.

So there’s a couple things guys: If that online info is wrong, get on the phone and get it fixed. You can do it, just be proactive and assertive and ask for these quotes to be changed or to be pulled down. You go from the reporter to the chief of staff, to the news editor. They’re not gonna like that. Newsrooms are very error-focused environments. It’s all about getting everything right all the time, and when there’s errors there’s problems. So be the proactive interviewee either gets things fixed fast.

Now, if that doesn’t work, get your solicitor friend involved; get your lawyer friend involved. I mean, one legal letter: $500, whatever it is. But if it means enough, if there is an actual factual error, it will be changed and it can be changed with a legal letter. At the most $500, it’s over. I think your phone call prior will change it faster than that.

And lastly, go into interviews just determined to stay on your message and get your yarn out there. Don’t go into interviews just hoping you can answer all the questions cause that leaves you open for these guys to pick one of your more salacious angles, or pick this story that you prefer not to get out there, and run with it. And then if you interview in a sloppy way, you don’t have any redress then; you’ve created that problem yourself.

So there’s a few things guys. So being misquoted is a thing, but you can get on top of it quickly, if you have to, to get things retracted. But what you can’t fix is a poor interview, so be very determined to stay on message during your interviews. Even if you feel like you’re not being very nice and you’re not necessarily being a great person during that interaction, that doesn’t matter, cause your reputation is more important than a few minutes of discomfort.

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.


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