I had an interesting experience with the mainstream media this week. A magazine not to be named has discontinued its “Letters to the Editor” section as part of its move to a primarily digital existence. There is now only the opportunity to append a note in the Comments section at the bottom of the digital version of the article. This raises the broader question of whether a company seeking to correct the record with an alternative version of the story is best served by going direct through its own social channels.
I have always believed that the letter to the editor is the least valuable option. It does add a different point of view and makes a different set of facts available to the reader or to a journalist looking to do a follow-up story. But it is a little-read section, limited now to the major daily newspapers, and is a ponderous process. A far preferable option is the in-article correction, with a note at the top explaining what was wrong, the erroneous lines stricken, and accurate information substituted in the body of the piece. At Reuters, the Ethics and Standards office handles all requests for corrections. When an error is made, a correction is posted immediately, and an explanation is given as to why the copy was changed.
Magazines and others, however, seem less willing to correct errors in digital versions of articles once the print edition is out. Further, the amended links are often not re-published on social. The Go Direct strategy has a better chance of changing the narrative on an important story. The exact approach can vary based on the situation. If time is an issue, a screenshot statement written in the Notes app is a suitable and authentic way for a company spokesperson to go beyond the 280 characters Twitter allows. With more time, a Medium or a corporate blog post or a video posted directly onto Twitter or YouTube allows for more extrapolation in a rebuttal.
This can take many shapes. Jeff Bezos wrote a Medium blog to discredit American Media’s efforts to blackmail him. Intel used Twitter to correct media reports that it was ending work on the 10nm Processor. And Twitter posted a piece on its company blog to refute the notion that it was shadow banning users.
The immediate inclination of a CCO, frustrated by a story and getting pressure from a CEO, might be to post a strong counter narrative on the company website, then use Twitter and other channels to generate further support. I endorse this approach with a breaking news story, when the company needs to regain the initiative. But first evaluate the social traction and make a call about the nature of the response.
The better part of valor might be to let the story remain as it was written, even with erroneous facts, because to do otherwise would prolong the news cycle. I would also urge CCOs embroiled in controversial matters to present all of the facts up front, not to negotiate by titrating information flow to reporters. Given shorter deadlines and the need for clickable headlines, the risk of an accident has increased geometrically.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.