I just returned from the annual meeting of ADTSEA, the American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association. That’s the organization that represents the nation’s driver ed teachers. I was there representing my client The National Road Safety Foundation.
I also serve on the executive board of ADTSEA, so on behalf of the group I reached out to local media in Wichita, where they were meeting, to try for some publicity about the group. I was able to interest The Wichita Eagle, the major daily covering Kansas, in coming to interview the group’s leaders as well as some of the driver ed teachers who were there from throughout the country.
The reporter called yesterday to tell me it was up online and would run today in the print edition. I read it and was happy with the thoroughness of the reporter. It was a perfect story – except for a quote at the very bottom of the piece. I had given the reporter the contact info for the person in charge of driver ed at the Kansas Dept. of Education, so he could get some local perspective, but it turns out she wasn’t available. So the reporter spoke with his own local contact at AAA, the Automobile Club of Kansas. The AAA guy cited an old study – from the 1980s in Canada – that found driver ed had no impact on the incidence of teen crashes. That study has been plaguing the driver ed community for decades. And that quote about the old study was sitting at the end of the story.
Since the story, so far, was only online and not scheduled to be in the print edition until this morning, I knew I had a chance to make an almost-perfect story perfect. I had learned a few days ago that a new study by the national AAA refuting the decades-old study was going to be presented at the premier traffic safety conference in September.
I called the reporter at The Eagle, thanked him for a great story, and then told him here was one factual error he might want to correct. I made it clear we weren’t questioning his accuracy in the quote, but rather the accuracy of what the person he quoted said. I asked if he would take a minute to talk by phone with the president of ADTSEA, and he agreed.
I put the president – Connie Sessoms of North Carolina – on and he explained. He made a solid case. I then got back on the phone and told him, again, it was a good story except for that one erroneous point. I told him I knew he’d do what he felt was right and that I would respect his decision. I didn’t push or insist that he delete or change the quote. I left it in his hands. He thanked me for calling and explaining and he said he’d see what he could do to balance it.
When I picked up the paper at the airport this morning, I smiled when I saw the story dominating Page One at top right. Perfect placement! And when I read the story, I smiled again as I saw Connie Sessoms’ statements in support of driver ed’s effectiveness. And even better, there was an additional quote from the AAA guy, moderating his negative comment. The reporter had gone back to him after we spoke and questioned him a bit more.
The call and the diplomacy made an almost-perfect story perfect.