What happens when you are misquoted by the press? This is a really interesting one because people hate the media, they hate journos, and part of it is they feel like they’ll probably be misquoted, which leads them to feel like they’re going to be misrepresented. So what happens to you when you do an interview and you’re misquoted?

Recently, I was doing a round of interviews with someone. Afterwards, he emailed me with a lot of frustration that he had been interviewed by The Australian and was misquoted. That’s not the end of the world and oftentimes people can feel very powerless with the media like: ‘They’re going to misquote me. They’re going to do the wrong thing by me.’

As an ex-journo myself, I’m not scared of the media at all. We are very fast in picking up the phone, and talking and fixing things. 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. The first thing to do if you’ve been misquoted online, is get on the phone to that journo and say, ‘Hey Simon, 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, it’s inaccurate.’

It’s clever when you’re being interviewed in the press for you to record somewhere as well. A lot of interviews that you’ll do will be on the phone, so put it on speaker and hit record yourself. If you’re going on 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 to. It’s so, so common for people to say they’re misquoted, but it’s easy to get on the phone and fix.

If the reporter doesn’t want to 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, but the very basics is to quote me correctly, 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.

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 as it’s not accurate. We don’t want to be sending legal letters and things because 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. Newsrooms are struggling for money as it is, so they don’t want to spend coin on defending themselves, so the end result means it is much easier just to retract.

The way you can’t be helped is when you interview yourself as an interviewee in such ashambolic 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’s being used; that’s on you. Too many interviewees and people who are 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 journalist 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 car 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,’ it becomes the new news.

One of the classics when you are a working journo is that so many times before the interview, the talent says 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. If that’s the case, just don’t mention the real story. Don’t mention the real story before, 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’ve provided.

You have to remember that so many times the best interviews are happening, and they’re not recorded, but that info is going to 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 journalist because you’re not answering their questions, that’s fine. Because your reputation is 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, and you’re using them, absolutely, so you can increase your profile, strengthen your brand, and be seen as an industry leader.

You’re playing the game, and it’s war without weapons, but you must focus on the issues, not the personal. 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. Stay on your messaging for the whole interview, and 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 too determined to stay on message.

There’s a couple things: 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 going to like that. Newsrooms are very error focused environments, and it’s all about getting everything right all the time, and when there’s errors there’s problems. So be the proactive interviewee that gets things fixed fast.

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 and the phone call prior will change it faster than that.

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 because that leaves you open for these guys to pick one of your more salacious angles, or pick the story that you would 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 and you’ve created that problem yourself.

Being misquoted is a thing, but you can get on top of it quickly 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, because 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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