I never thought I’d write a post
about the basics of reporting
because most journalists I know
are extremely professional —
but last week I had an
An otherwise credible trade publication featured an
article about a well-known company – and got much of
the information wrong.
Not only was the writing
careless but there were
breeches of etiquette.
I don’t think their actions were intentional but remarkably naïve. My guess is that the Publisher gave a production person a chance to write an article, and while this author was well-versed on her side of the business, sadly, she didn’t know much about the business of reporting.
So this is a good reminder: just because we can write admirably in some situations doesn’t mean we’re journalists. Here are Ten behavioral Commandments to keep us on track:
1. Thou shall talk to a high level spokesperson. Talking to the receptionist, custodian, sales rep, or project manager does not constitute “talking with the company.” Instead, go through proper channels to make your goals clear, request mutually convenient interviews, confirm times and call-in numbers, follow with a thank you, recap or further questions. Quote several people for perspective; verify their names/titles and spellings.
2. Thou shall not steal – corporate content without permission and attribution. Just because you are reporting on a company, doesn’t give you carte blanche to use their material. An attribution typically reads: “Reprinted with permission. © Year, Company Name, first published in Source Here with Date.”
3. Thou shall do the legwork. Research the company. Check their website. Read industry articles. Listen to presentations. Access their collateral or annual report. It’s important to know how they describe and position themselves.
4. Thou shall beware loaded words. If you are familiar with the niche you’re covering, you’re probably in good shape, but if you are facing unknown territory, choose your words carefully. Often there’s corporate lingo or fine distinctions that convey vital information to insiders. For example, if you’re talking about publishing, “readers” and “subscribers” are not the same. If you’re talking about technology, “Flash” and “non-Flash” are lightyears apart.
5. Thou shall covet clear writing. Aim to be precise. To say that a customer can “use,” “upload,” or “send out” implies they have direct access to the functionality. If the company governs these activities, designate the “ownership” to the company and say that they provide these services.
6. Thou shall check facts and check them again. If in doubt, ask the company spokesperson to clarify. Most are more than willing to help. Don’t make an assumption– especially if based on a unique situation or small sampling. For example, if you see blue cups on several desks, don’t assume the corporate color is blue. Someone may just have been cleaning house.
7. Thou shall use visuals that provide accurate examples. Just because an image is colorful or appealing, doesn’t mean it accurately describes the company’s product or strategy. It could be old or stylized. It could be phasing out or changing. Verify that this is the best image to use, clear permissions, and secure the highest quality rendering.
8. Thou shall love thy editors – for critical thinking and direction… for headline improvement and copy edits… for probes that help you become a better, more insightful reporter… for the push that forces you to answer the unspoken question.
9. Thou shall be objective unless thou art writing a review. Eliminate words that convey your personal feelings or are intended to sway the reader. For example, using a phrase like, “Their seemingly good solution” suggests that you think otherwise, much like “the alleged offender” implies the person may be innocent.
10. Thou shall own up to thy mistakes. If something was missed or misunderstood, it won’t be the first time. That’s why credible publications run corrections and why book publishers use Errata Sheets. You don’t necessarily have to apologize for your opinions, but if the product is “black” and you say it is “white,” then it’s smart to fess up. Sometimes blaming an error on a typo is a gentle way to avoid taking the full hit as a writer – but in the end, being responsive and responsible will go a long way toward your success.