Monday, September 24, 2012

Typos and Twins

I just came across an article on PR Daily called "How to Handle Minor Misquotes in the Press."

This article really struck home for me. You see, before I started here at CGR, I worked as a reporting intern for two very small newspapers in South Carolina. The PR Daily article discusses what a person should do if a reporter misquotes them, responding that they should just forget about it in most cases, assuming the error was minor and in no way damaging. If the error is more serious or detrimental to your reputation, especially if it borders on libel, it should definitely be reported.

As a past-reporter and current freelancer, if there's one thing I know, it's this: typos happen. And, in the case of print journalism, it isn't as easy to fix them. I currently write for a few blogs and contribute one freelance article a week to an online running website, and, for those, it's typically as easy as clicking "edit" or contacting my administrator for the problem to disappear. From my work at the newspapers, however, I know firsthand how glaring an out of place comma or a misspelled name can be when the "edit" button is no longer an option. Reporters, and anyone who contributes the written word, must be extra-careful to ensure that their facts are correct, and their writing polished, because even the smallest error could result in total loss of credibility.

Let me recall one of the last stories that I covered before moving to Charlotte. My editor, knowing that I was a runner, assigned me to write a story on each of the five cross-country teams in the area. I was ecstatic. I soon realized, however, that, not only do all high school kids start to look alike the older you get, they say similar things, as well. This meant that I had twenty quotes from each team about how they love their sport, love their team, and can't wait to see what happens this season, and I had to keep track of which person said which variation of the same.

So you can imagine my distress, when, on one of the afternoons, a coach insisted that I talk to his two prized athletes. Twins. Identical twins. My two best friends are identical twins, and I've never had any problem telling them apart, but it was no consolation to these girls, as I confused their names for the hundredth time, when I said, "My best friends are twins! I know this is annoying!"

Regardless, my interview time ran up because they had to continue with practice, and I was left with a jumble of quotes, unsure which words connected and who said what. Rather than risking a misquote in the article, and knowing I had to meet deadline, I was forced to use only the quotes whose speakers I knew for sure. There were a few really great quotes that I chose to discard because they'd been reduced to less than shorthand in the flustering interview, so I wasn't sure exactly what was said...or even who said it!

Awful. Before this, I'd considered myself a fairly good interviewer for an amateur, but this was easily my worst effort as a report thus far.

So now let me take you through misquotes from a reporter's point of view.

As a reporter, you always want to make the article as relevant and read-worthy as possible, without being a sensationalist article. In the case of blatant, or pointed, misquotes, some reporters lose sight of this. However, in the event of a minor misquote, it is usually the result of a typo, poorly organized notes, or distracted attention. Although as an interviewee, you may feel that the interviewer has the easy job, simply writing down your answers, this isn't always the case.

Interviews need to be held at conversational pace, and, if the conversation picks up faster than the interviewer can write (if, like me, they haven't ingeniously invested in a recording device yet), some vital contents may be lost in the process. It can be impossible for an interviewer to ask you to repeat yourself or slow down, especially in a hurried event.

HOWEVER, what all reporters should do, and what I wish I had done, is, in the case there is any question on a quote, name, or fact, call the subject back and verify. For the most part, people love to talk, and, if it means making sure their voice is 100% heard, they're happy to repeat it.

That being said, and I know I don't speak for all reporters, I see nothing wrong with calling about a misquote. Do so nicely, and, if anything, it will remind both reporters and editors to hone their reporting skills for future articles. As I said earlier, a misquote, or a typo, can completely ruin a news organization's reputation, where much of their communication is written. Who are you going to trust? The article that, although well-written, has an obvious typo, or the one that is polished and thorough?

In relation to marketing and business, I can't tell you how many times I've refused to use a business or a product due to poor grammar or misspelled words. It's not just because I'm a Grammar Nerd (I am), but it also makes me question the legitimacy and professionalism of the company or brand. Just as quickly as a creative design can attract the eye, a typo can push it away.

What are your thoughts on misquotes/typos? How do you think they reflect on a business?

-Hayley Lyons

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