Dr. Glen W. White, director of the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas, sent us an email with an article attached. "The Lawrence Journal World did a story on our project regarding disaster preparation and emergency response for people with mobility impairments," he wrote. Unfortunately, he told us, they got their facts wrong. In the story "KU seeks evacuation plans that account for disabled," which ran on Nov. 20, 2002, the paper reports that the RRTC had received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency "to select 30 Kansas counties that have recently experienced disasters to gather data on whether those disasters changed policies on evacuating people with disabilities."
That was simply inaccurate, says White. The funding came from the Centers for Disease Control and other sources. "We were using FEMA data to gain information," he told us.
It seems the reporter had mixed up the facts, and gotten the story wrong.
"We thought we were very explicit," he continued. "Yet information came out incorrectly."
No matter how clear the information you provide a reporter, sometimes they just get things wrong. No matter how explicit your fact sheet, no matter how well you've explained things in an interview, people make mistakes. And sometimes it's not the reporter who makes the error. In the editing process, a copy editor (who edits the story and writes the headline and photo captions) may insert an inaccuracy.
When factual information in a story is incorrect, asking for a correction is clearly in order. Your case is strengthened if you can say you provided the reporter with a written press release or fact sheet that spelled out the correct information. Media outlets are almost always happy to print a correction of this nature; they don't want to be responsible for publishing inaccurate information any more than you want it published. Most newspapers' websites or mastheads will tell you whom to contact about correcting mistakes in a story.
This RRTC's story points up the importance of having a fact sheet about your project to hand to reporters, in addition to a press release. Make sure it's just one page. Using headings of "Who," "What," "When" "Where" and "Why" (or "How") is a good way to structure it. Keep it extremely simple. It cuts down the chances of mistakes by reporters.
Remember it may not be the reporter's error. Sometimes in the editing process, an editor or headline writer may create an inaccuracy.
Next time in Media Matters: When asking for a correction may be the wrong move.
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