The reporting errors regarding the Palestinian terrorist attack on an Israeli musical festival and kibbutzim should have provided important lessons for PR practitioners, especially when doing research for a program or speech: Never rely on one single source.
The importance of making certain that what you disseminate was magnified when major news outlets reported that an Israeli airstrike killed at least 500 Palestinians who were in a hospital, despite Israeli spokespersons immediately saying that the explosion was caused by a faulty Palestinian missile, which was later confirmed after intelligence intercepts were made public.
Many newspapers—including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that ran articles based on information provided by Palestinians without checking on its veracity—ran corrective reports, as did TV stations.
In most cases, once the corrections are acknowledged the matter is usually closed. But not always. For PR people who provide misinformation to journalists, doing so can have a disastrous effect on an individual’s career.
- If a journalist uses misinformation in a report provided by a PR person, the reporter will not trust the individual and stop using information from the individual.
- A journalist who has received wrong information might tell his colleagues, who will put the PR person on a “watch list.”
- Journalists who receive bad information would stop reaching out to the PR person for information
- Also, journalists who used to reach out to the PR person for a client to provide a quote for a story will stop doing so.
- If the PR person is in the “placement” department, losing a contact(s) could lead to a job loss.
Here are rules to make certain that your program or speech does not contain erroneous information:
- When researching information for programs or a speech, never rely on information from the internet. Much of it is not factual.
- Never use information that you found on social media. Not only is much of it propaganda, but much of it is written by people with an agenda and is not factually correct.
- Never use information that you saw in a newspaper. It can be wrong.
- Never rely on information that you heard on television. Much of the “breaking news” reported on television has not been checked for accuracy. The same is true in early editions of newspapers.
- Never include information from clients until you check to make certain that it’s accurate.
- Spend a few hours at a library researching information from different sources to make certain that information in your program or speech is factual.
- Books by prominent authors and historians have been checked by publishers before publication. That’s a good source, but do not use any “facts” in books written by political activists or politicians.
- Major magazines also are a good source because, unlike daily newspapers and TV reports, articles are fact checked before being published. But as in the above, do not use any “facts” by political activists or politicians.
- Never ever use “facts” from online encyclopedias. It’s possible that political activists are providing the information in them. However, encyclopedias that are long established and respected like the ones that we grew up with are a good source.
- Some reporters will call and say that they are on deadline and ask for additional information. Never wing it. Always say “I’ll check on it and get back to you.”
In most cases, reporters will accept information that you send as true. But where PR people can get tripped up is when information you send contains statistics. Reporters at prestigious media will check with the PR person and might want to know the source of the information.
So be prepared to provide it. And if the information you sent contains sales figures, it’s a good idea to arrange a conversation between the reporter and the client.
When your information contains data from a survey, reporters at prestigious publications will want to know who conducted the survey. Provide it, along with the entire survey, unless it contains proprietary information. If that’s the case, let the reporter know why that portion of the survey was not provided.
The worst thing that can happen is when a reporter uses inaccurate information provided by a PR person that results in a printed or an on-air correction. That’s an embarrassing situation both for the reporter and the news outlet, and is certain to affect your relationship with the journalist.
Example: After initially reporting that an Israeli bomb killed more than 500 Palestinians, based on a Hamas spokesman, print and TV reports ran corrective stories for days and are still doing so as of Oct. 23, the day I am writing this essay. In a front page story in the New York Times on Oct. 23, the paper reported that “Five days after Hamas accused Israel of bombing a hospital in Gaza City and killing hundreds of people, the armed Palestinian group has yet to produce or describe any evidence linking Israel to the strike…” PR people should also not let incorrect information go uncorrected.
If after you send information you learn that it is incorrect, always immediately let the journalist know. That will prevent the journalist from being blindsided if called on the carpet by a higher-up and will benefit you for being truthful.