Media coverage of local transit issues is likely to involve debate over a variety of topics that includes economic development and urban sprawl, traffic congestion, public financing for public transportation, quality of service, energy and the environment. Given the range of subjects and the strong positions they will generate, coalition members should be prepared to deal with inaccurate, incomplete or erroneous media reports. When you believe the media has published or broadcast an inaccurate story, you need to determine if the problem involves an error of fact or an interpretation of the facts that differs from yours or coalition’s.
How to correct media errors: Errors of fact are easier to manage than misinterpretations. When you discover a mistake in a journalist’s story, present the correct factual information with as much documentation as possible and try to persuade the journalist to publish or broadcast a correction.
If you believe your issue has been poorly covered or the information is inaccurate or incomplete, you can explore developing a new angle and adding new information before you contact the reporter. In this way, the reporter may choose to write a new second story with the correct information, without having to decide whether there was an error. Some reporters will be willing to correct mistakes in print or on the air even without a new angle.
How to address a contrary viewpoint: A situation in which a reporter has interpreted the facts differently is not the same as one in which he or she has reported the facts incorrectly. Acknowledge up front that there is a difference of opinion involved and that you’d like a chance to present your views. Many reporters will respond positively to a caller who presents another point of view that has not received much publicity.
Be prepared to provide a 20- or 30-second statement explaining your position. A reporter, particularly from radio, may ask you to tell your side of the issue when you call. Explain your position briefly and back it up with as many facts as possible. Present reasons why the readers, listeners or viewers will want to be aware of your viewpoint. Be careful not to attack the reporter personally; the more you refer to his or her interpretation and contrast it with your own, the more legitimate you will appear. Finally, ask the reporter if he can help you gain coverage for your side of the issue.
If a solution cannot be found with the reporter, it is often best to let the matter drop unless the story is likely to create a serious and continuing problem for you and your coalition. In this situation, you may want to try to arrange a meeting with the managing editor, the editorial board or the news assignment editor. Explain that you’d like an opportunity to present your coalition’s perspective. Let them know you want to work with them to avoid future misunderstandings. Some media organizations will be receptive; others will not.