How to Deal with Biased Reporters – Missy Hurley

This week on Ethical Voices, Missy Hurley, the co-founder and CEO of B2 Communications, discusses a number of important ethics issues:

Why don’t you tell my listeners more about yourself and your career?

I’ve had an exciting new title change. I’m now the CEO of B2 Communications. So, in the fall of 2023, my business partner and I made some changes to our agency structure, and I acquired his half of the agency that we’ve been running together for 13 years. So a fun new change in my work world. Before starting B2 Communications, I’ve always been in the agency world. I worked at agencies around the Greater Tampa Bay area, doing everything from wine and spirits – working with a major worldwide importer and learning the ins and outs of control states and non-control states – to doing destinations like the Salvador Dali Museum, which is the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Spain.

Like most agency professionals, I thrive with curiosity and working in many different industries. At B2 Communications, we focus almost exclusively on business-to-business communications. We like to solve the problems that are a little bit harder to communicate, a little bit more niche audiences, and thinking about how can we help fast-growth companies really scale and leverage their unique talents and their unique information.

What is the most difficult ethical challenge you ever confronted?

It’s actually been recent, which was surprising to me. I thought with 20 years in the industry, I feel like I’ve almost seen it all, but I was surprised by something that happened this fall.

We’ve been working with a nonprofit that we’ve done work on and off for about 12 years. We came back in to do a special project with them around an issue that probably would be considered innovative. If they were working in the for-profit space, they’d probably be lauded for unusual partnerships and innovative thinking and really trying to change perceptions. But in their industry, it was really a bit tricky because it challenged the long-held perceptions, and it was a very unusual partnership in a sector that is not always seen as forward-thinking.

I was pitching four reporters, three of which I knew pretty well. The fourth reporter I didn’t know as well, but I had worked with off and on. She worked for a statewide magazine. I pitched them, and what it turned into was a three-hour meeting with this reporter that was incredibly emotionally charged, including her slamming her arms on the desk and yelling expletives at us. By the end of the three hours, we came out of that feeling like we had heard each other, each side had really understood where they’re coming from. We felt like there was a chance it could be balanced, but she said something interesting to me on my way out the door that I didn’t fully realize the weight of what it meant, but she said to me, “How can I tell everyone that my mind has changed?”

And I thought, “Hmm, okay, well that’s thought-provoking.” We continued to chat via text and answer the questions…normal reporter correspondence with the PR practitioner. Two things simultaneously happen on the same day. She publishes a story full of inaccuracies, full of emotionally charged language and unwillingness to listen. So, it was clear that we weren’t coming from the same place by the end of the day.

The other thing that happened was the email that I had sent to her with some basic information, some basic facts that had four bullet points, kind of talking about what was happening with this nonprofit, had been forwarded, and I still don’t know who it was forwarded to, but I think it was forwarded to a group of advocates, who then took it and forwarded it to a group of reporters. But what they did was they changed the text of my email.

The next day I got a phone call from a reporter I’m used to working with. I’ve worked with her for 15 years, and she says, “Hey, Missy, I got this somewhat strange email from you. Are you working with XYZ nonprofit?” I said, “Yeah, I’m working on a special project. Tell me about this email. I’m happy to talk with you about it.” And so, she starts, I can tell she’s reading off of something. We’re on the phone, so I can tell she’s reading off something, and it is language that you would never expect from a PR practitioner. It certainly did not come from me.

And she says, “Here’s what I’m reading, and here’s what I’m understanding, and I don’t normally hear you talk like that, and this isn’t something I normally get from you in this way.” And I said, “Well, time out. What do you mean by that?” She said, “Well, someone forwarded me something from you, and that’s what I’m reading to you.” And I said, “Well, time out. Can I tell you what actually happened here?” She allowed me to explain the program, but I had never had a pitch be forwarded to a group of advocates for this, on the other side of this issue, who then change what’s written and make it appear as if it’s from me, the blatant spread of misinformation, and make it appear like it’s from me.

She said, “I have this press release.”

I said, “Well, that’s interesting because I haven’t written a press release about this.”

This is a very experienced reporter and editor. So, seeing the blatant spread of misinformation, the push for inaccuracies and misrepresentation, and also at the same time, it was spreading like wildfire. The inaccuracies that the reporter had published were spreading like wildfire on social media. and really seeing in real time, particularly with, I had seen it with Gen Z and was looking at Pew numbers before we jumped on the call of trust in news versus trust in social media. And the numbers for 18 to 29 are about the same. About 50% had trust in the news they got on social media, and about 56%, so a six-point spread, for national news, and then I think closer to 62% for local news.

We’re seeing that play out in real time, there wasn’t trust from the three other news articles that were showing the rest of the story, with accurate facts, versus this one reporter who had done very emotionally charged writing with inaccuracies who didn’t have the desire to be unbiased, balanced, or factual in her reporting.

That’s something that in probably hundreds of thousands of interactions of reporters in 20 years, I had never experienced that level of it before.

I’ve done 170-plus interviews and it’s the first one like this I’ve heard. Thank you for sharing it. It comes down to two things – how do you ethically deal with people with agendas? And then two, how do you deal ethically with media that change your words, not just misrepresent them or take them out of context, but actually edit your words?

What did you do? Could you demonstrably prove the reporter changed your words? And if so, did you take any action?

I wasn’t able to get any reporters, despite having long-standing relationships with this reporter and another, I talked to three or four reporters who all had gotten that email, and they said, “Missy, I can’t give up my sources. I can’t send this to you.”

As an ethical PR practitioner, I didn’t press them for that because I understand they have their own ethics that they need to abide by, which was so painful for me because I knew from what they were reading to me that it wasn’t me and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. But for them, they felt it was more important to protect their relationship, their sources, and their ethics as a reporter, to not be in the middle of it, for the ones that changed the words.

Did you send the unedited email with time stamps and dates and everything else to the reporters?

One of them I had actually already been pitching. We had already scheduled an interview, and he had already seen it directly from me. He and I had been corresponding. He said, “I had your original information, so I was shocked to see it this way.” I said, “Can you please send it to me? Can you screenshot it? Can you something?”

I want to respect their boundaries as a reporter and as editors. But at the same time, I know how much they care about the truth, accuracy, the free flow of information. So, to me, this was something that was interrupting the free flow of information. This is something that is trying to distract you from truth and accuracy. Can we work together to solve the issue? Part of it is yes, media ethics, but the other part is they’ve got such a crush of deadlines that that would take them away from their daily job.

Did you talk to this reporter’s editor? Did you escalate it within the organization at all?

She was an editor and publisher, so there is no one to escalate to, unfortunately.

Broadening it beyond that specific horrific case, what’s your advice for people when they’re dealing with emotionally charged and biased reporters that are going from reporting to advocacy?

The same issue, a separate reporter, we have the same problem. Her personal biases were getting in the way of factual reporting. In that instance, we spent about 10 hours with her, really giving a ton of information, being as open as possible, but also creating some checkpoints. This is a different reporter that we were working with on the same issue.

I said, “I’m going to only do interviews, and I’m going to record them. I’ll be the Zoom host. I’ll share the recordings with you, but I have them and you have them.” Her editor also had access to them. We were showing videos, but I decided not to send the videos. We were showing some examples of the issue work in action, and she was in disbelief. She wanted to use some covert videos in her reporting that were gained by trespassing and really believed those were credible.

But the videos that we were showing her of properties, she had a really hard time believing were true.

We invited her to come to the property so that we could throw a dart at a map and give people a 30-minute heads up and we would show up on their property, and she couldn’t make time for that, but she wanted to believe the rest of it.

I am a believer that the truth will prevail. So being as honest as you can, but also put some safeguards in place.

I was screen sharing on video, but I wasn’t comfortable letting those videos out of my hands because I wasn’t sure what was going to be done with them. Were they going to be sent to the opposition, the group of people who had twisted my words? And would they be used against us? Where my purpose was to show unedited videos of what was happening and explain what was happening in those videos and wanting to be treated with the same level of respect and honesty and accuracy, knowing that that video came from a trusted source.

I then had access to those recordings so that if there were questions about it later or if we needed to escalate it to editors, I had a record of that. At the same time, trying to be transparent and honest, trying to work through the context, trying to work through the nuance, putting in the work to have the information be out there, to be accurate, to be honest, to be truthful, but not do it in a way that is going to be harmful or misused or misrepresented. That is a really tricky balance.

It is a challenge, especially in emotionally charged issues, whatever they may be. What was your client’s reaction to this?

The first time around, I think it was as much disbelief as I was feeling. This was a publisher that they had spent money with. They had been a sponsor. They’d had a long-standing partnership. It was at the nonprofit CEO’s request that we include her in the first round of outreach.

It felt very personal for this nonprofit. It was hurt. Beyond anything else, it was hurt. It was an education process, too, of how do we respond to this? Do we respond to it on our website? Do we ask for corrections, knowing that our words have already been twisted twice? Do we put ourselves out there a third time, knowing our words are probably going to be twisted again?

We worked down the scenarios of pros and cons with it. And in the end, we decided to leave it be. We weren’t going to give it any more life. We weren’t going to give it any more credence. We weren’t going to link to it. We certainly weren’t going to link to it from the organization’s website. It had gotten a lot of play on social media but wasn’t the total universe who had seen it.

Beyond your personal experience, what are you seeing as some key ethics challenges facing PR pros today and tomorrow?

I think part of it is tied to that issue – information can come from anywhere, and it’s sorting out the facts and the credibility. I know you’ve been talking a lot about AI in the podcast, layering that in of AI hallucinates about 30% of the time. So how do we account for that, knowing that information can come from anywhere? It’s coming at us quickly.

Another challenge that I see coming up is, when do we label something as AI-generated? When do we label something as electronically modified AI-assisted? But on the flip side, as news consumers, or consumers of information, how do we help people sort out what’s credible or uncredible, what’s true and honest, when it’s sometimes not easy to tell?

What is your policy in terms of disclosing the use of AI?

We disclose it. When we’re working with clients, we disclose if we used research to start it, if we used it for blog post generation,

I’ve disclosed to clients, I wrote the whole op-e” entirely myself. I needed some help with the headline, and I pulled two or three options out of AI. I told them if they seem different, it’s because they are, and what do you think of them?

Internally, our policy is if you used AI at all in your process, you need to tell your next-level editor about it. And if we’re delivering something to a client that includes the use of AI, we do disclose that.

Beyond that, we’re working with our clients to determine what is their level of responsibility? We work with some public agencies, and that is something that they’re sort of working through is, what is their policy and what do their stakeholders expect? What level of transparency are they beholden to on their stakeholders?

I agree. It’s one of the more challenging things that people face. I believe, though, in the end, it’s disclose, disclose, disclose. You’re never going to go wrong by saying what the source is or how you use the tools.

What is the best ethics advice you received?

What’s done in the dark will come to light. Whatever is done, even behind the scenes, even if you think no one is going to know, it always comes up.

Live by the truth and be comfortable with that. Whatever’s done in the dark, whatever’s done in between a conversation, I would feel really comfortable being out there because I know that that is very much possible. But I think also, it helps me sleep at night.

Also, the advice that I give to a lot of my interns is to think about how you want to be remembered. Our industry can be very small. Our community can be very small. While it seems really big while you’re getting into it, think about how you want someone to remember you of, “Oh yeah, Missy was great to work with. She delivered on what she promised. She was very forthcoming. I always knew what I was going to get when working with Missy.” What are the ways that I want to be remembered in terms of how I worked, how I interacted with people, or how I treated others? That’s something that stays front and center for me and that I try to give that advice to others.

You can listen to the full interview, with bonus content, here.



Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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