After [hearing](http://www.plurk.com/p/k2iwe) about another [misquoting incident](http://www.geekonomics.us/2009/03/setting-the-records-straight/) in the local media I thought I should share a similar incident which also happened recently, to a classmate of mine.
A few weeks ago I [reported](http://vantan.org/insead/2009/02/insead-in-the-news-twice.php) that one of my classmates made it to the quarter finals of L’Oreal’s EStrat, a global marketing simulation contest. I scanned the article and congratulated him on his Facebook wall.
INSEAD student Sameer Mathur, interviewed on L'Oreal marketing contest
The part where he’s mentioned and quoted, is:
> Mr S– M–, an Indian international and a semifinalist of EStrat, said that the competition gives him the chance to experience a real-life marketing challenge.
>
> “It will be a great asset to add to my resume,” said the student at Insead, a post-graduate business school.
He thanked me for the info and added:
> But I am surprised to see the comments in the news paper, I never told them what they have written.
>
> They called me and this is what I told them
> “The idea of stepping into the shoes of a General Manager, having to manage a portfolio of beauty brands and facing marketing situations and challenges was an extremely appealing idea. We know that joining this competition is one of the best ways to glimpse what makes the world’s foremost beauty company tick and get hands-on experience in the business.”
I can understand if a quote has been slightly rephrased, or some words have been removed or re-arranged… but this seems to be very different from his original statement. Good that he kept a record in writing, so we can have a side-by-side comparison of the original statement and what was published in the end.
It could have been lost in translation, if his quote was given to the PR department or PR agency and then passed to the journalist. But we thought it’s unlikely that PR reps of a global company would warp the original statement so much. There’s no benefit to them changing it. The article was, however, one in a series on job searches, thus the rephrased quote fit better with the theme.
This is the second time a classmate of mine has been misquoted in the press. The [first time](http://vantan.org/insead/2008/12/why-doesnt-the-local-press-get.php), I had the impression that an incoming classmate sounded a little naive. Later she told me that these words were suggested to her so that it would fit better with the theme of the article; it wasn’t what she really wanted to say.
Perhaps ‘misquote’ in this first case isn’t the best word but I’m seeing a pattern – a need for quotes which help the article to flow well. Of course, not everyone you interview may say what you want, and if time’s short, why not rephrase it? However, news reporting should be non-fiction. If you want to change a statement drastically, I’d think you should contact the interviewee to discuss this, especially if you’re publishing their name.
I am fortunate that all the journalists who have interviewed me have been very professional – they check back with me before modifying my quotes, they are familiar with the topic at hand and ask good questions. Also, to be fair to journalists (having worked in a newsroom before) I’ve seen how some reports can get modified out of their control, literally from black to white. I don’t intend to point fingers at particular people because this seems to be happening too often, which means it’s not a ‘specific person’ problem but possibly an underlying problem with the system – incentives, procedures, hierarchy… There are a lot of other factors we may not know about – that’s what I’ve been learning in business school.
Later I’ll write a separate blog post to share my own experiences, and maybe we can all have a constructive discussion on what we can do to improve the situation.