Thursday, December 15, 2005


Nothing hurts more than to give bad data to reporters. It's humiliating whether or not you created the errors. I once had a case that victimized a client. A data service had collected information that a client passed onto a reporter. It was part of a package of information that included interviews and a separate study.

The newspaper had written the story, chosen the angle and was ready to put the article to bed when the editor checked the data and found an error. The newspaper editor was spooked, as he should have been. If this is wrong, what about the rest? He spiked the story and called me to ask what happened. I was chagrined. I hadn't seen the data nor had the client. We had assumed the service had gotten it right. It hadn't.

We had broken a basic rule -- always check and recheck to be sure data is accurate. We had broken a second rule: Never give data to a reporter unless you know it is right. We had broken a third rule: Explain data to a reporter to prevent confusion. In this case, there was a timing issue that was critical, but there was no explanation of the timing.

It was a cockup. I explained to the editor what happened and apologized profusely. You only get one chance before you break the fragile bond of credibility. We had tested the limit by trusting a vendor.


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