Carl Bialik’s column in The Wall St. Journal notes how easily mistakes in stats or quotes, or even typos can be perpetuated online. That’s because even if incorrect information is changed on a website, the old information survives in search engines.
That’s the kind of error that can turn up in what I call Stealth Interviews. Thanks to the time constraints and laziness of both traditional journalists and bloggers, you may be quoted in a story, sometimes at length, without actually being interviewed. That’s a Stealth Interview.
You will definitely be quoted out of context in a Stealth Interview because there is no context. The interview never happened. But you’re quoted nonetheless, and you did make the statement. You just didn’t think you were saying it to a reporter.
The quote could come from a forum, a blog post or comment, an exchange in a social networking forum, an article you wrote, even an email.
Chances are good that a traditional or new media reporter is looking for a quote that reinforces or gives contrast to his/her point of view and something you once said online fit the bill.
Online Content is Forever
Most writers begin their research online. They’ll type in the topic in a search engine and see what and who comes up. They’ll follow links to several sites and scan the material to see if anything there is usable for the story. If they find names of experts within these sites, they will make note of them and then enter those names in Google’s search box to see what comes up. And, voila! you’re a source for a Stealth Interview.
Online, for all the world to see, will be every post you ever made to a blog, forum, discussion group or mail list; every mention of your name on Websites, newsletters and blogs anywhere on the Internet; articles you have written or been mentioned or featured in; and if they are properly search engine optimized: all the press releases you have issued.
How Not to Come Across Like a Jerk
Unless you’re closely monitoring what’s being said about you and your company, you may never even know you’ve been included in a story via a Stealth Interview. Whether that encounter hurts you or helps you has a lot to do with whether you know how not to come across like a jerk.
If you said something brilliant or something wonderful was said about you, you’re in great shape. If you ever wrote an insipid or nasty comment in a chat room, responded less than perfectly to an interviewer’s question in a story that was printed, posted or streamed online it won’t be a secret.
Because of the way search engines are set up, every citation stays in their index until someone at the search engine company removes them. Sites that are long gone are still indexed and still come up in search results. A site containing information about you may long ago have gone belly up, but another site, or a blogger may have included information from the defunct site in his/her site, where it will be preserved, and visible to search engines, indefinitely. Blog software automatically archives each post and so you better believe, posts have legs.
A journalist or blogger seeking information on you or a quote from you can easily find these entries and pick them up. Bloggers, for example, tend to quote from and comment on news stories published by other bloggers or journalists. Once something appeared that was incorrect, even if it was later corrected, it can come back to haunt you over and over.
Take very much to heart the fact that everything you write or say can come back to haunt you, especially on the Internet. Online journalists aren’t the only ones using the Stealth Interview. Busy traditional journalists in a hurry or in another time zone are just as likely to use the technique.
So next time you’re tempted to fire off a flippant comment on a blog or forum, think twice. Posted by B.L. Ochman