Avoid being misquoted

By Dr. Daniel T. Halperin, Lecturer on Global Health, Harvard University School of Public Health

Many scientists are reluctant to talk to reporters for fear that they will be misquoted. This is a valid concern. Sooner or later, it will happen to everyone. However, this is not a reason to avoid talking to the media. There are several things you can to do reduce the chance of being misquoted:

  • Conduct interviews over e-mail. This is becoming increasingly common, and it reduces the chance that you will be misrepresented, since your words are provided in writing and you can go back and check what you said.
  • Ask reporters how you can help them be sure they get their facts right. Some reporters may offer to send you a draft, or the section that quotes you, or they may call and read to you parts of the story to be sure they have understood the topic correctly.
  • Speak slowly and clearly so that you can be easily understood.
  • Provide handouts with written information to make sure that the reporter is not relying only on the interview.
  • If you think a reporter is not following your points, try to determine if the cause is confusion or deliberate misrepresentation. If you think a reporter is trying to spin your messages in a negative way, you could suggest credible allies in the field to talk with—who will support your work and back up your messages.
  • After the interview, follow up by e-mail to reiterate points you think the reporter may not have understood.

Although these tips may not guarantee that you are never misquoted, they will go a long way in preventing misrepresentations.

October 8th, 2013