What to do When You’re Not Happy With the Reporting

All PR people have been in this situation: You work hard to pitch a good story or set up a good interview, and a journalist responds to your pitch and seems to be ready to publish something. But at some point before the piece is published, you get the sense that your efforts are being “rewarded” with a story that isn’t going to go the way you want it to. The reporter may be taking an angle that is unfavorable to your client or may be de-emphasizing your client’s point of view. The situation may not be your fault, but the lawyer or the law firm isn’t going to be interested in hearing about that. What should you do, and what should you not do?

  1. Do go directly to the reporter on the story in a timely manner with a phone call that is pointed but polite. Ask her if you can help her in any way and if she has any questions for you or for your client. She may simply be misinformed about a detail of the story or may have come to a wrong impression that can still be corrected. Be prepared to follow up immediately with any request that the reporter might make.
  2. Do email the reporter factual material that might help her. Reporters almost always want to learn more about the subject that they’re writing about. Even if the material you send is unsolicited, any reporter will at least take a look at a previously published article, a public document, or an internal law firm document (if you have permission to use that). Sending factual material to a reporter is much more persuasive than arguing with the reporter about why her story is wrong.
  3. Don’t ask the reporter to read her draft story, or any part of it, to you.Reporters view that tactic as undue interference in their work, and they will not agree to that request. In addition, doing this can ruin any future relationship between you and the reporter. You don’t want to burn that particular bridge, in all probability.
  4. Don’t attempt to go over the reporter’s head to her editor. Don’t complain to an editor about the reporter’s actions – except in the rare case when you believe that the reporter has broken the law or the ethics of journalism. (And even then, think a couple of times before you go to the editor.) Don’t try to get the story changed by talking to the editor. That will be viewed as an attempt by the subject of a story to manage the news, and it won’t work.
  5. Do try to prepare your client for what may happen next.Tell the client in detail about the nature of your contacts with the reporter, what your strategy was, and what the story may look like when it is published. This is not an effort to place blame anywhere but an effort to avoid unwanted surprises and to begin to develop a plan to counteract any harm from the article, if it looks as if that type of plan will be needed.