Saturday, March 16, 2019

“I’m off the record, right?”

And. . . If. . . But. . .

Try asking reporters what “off the record” means to them. Truth is, not even veteran reporters know for sure what “off the record” really means.

The search for a definition began following a kerfuffle when a City of Lake Worth resident was quoted in the print edition of The Palm Beach Post after telling the beat reporter something “off the record”. The problem with “off the record” is it means different things to different reporters. Here’s a good explanation from MediaManoeuvres:

Whatever The Meaning: Tread With Caution.

     The important thing to remember is that the success of speaking off-the-record depends entirely on trust. As journos are often ranked lower than car salesmen in the honesty stakes, entrusting a career or reputation to a journo can be a big call. So no one should go off-the-record unless they actually trust the journalist concerned. It is important to remember that whilst journalists are guided by their code of ethics this is not legally enforceable and isn’t strongly policed. [emphasis added]
     When approached by a reporter or called on the phone your first decision is whether or not to speak at all.

From Chatterbox is this titled, For the Record. What “Off the Record” Means:

You know: background, deep background, not for attribution, and off the record.

“Chatterbox, who has been a Washington journalist for nearly 20 years, doesn’t have a clue what most of these terms mean, and doesn’t believe anyone else does, either. Or rather, thinks that if you ask different journalists what the terms mean, they will give you different answers.”

Here are excerpts from Chatterbox:


“Background means that you can use the information but not attribute it . . . to a name, and I think it’s the responsibility of both the source and the reporter to get clear between themselves how the attribution will be rendered in print.”

Deep Background

“I take that to mean that you can use the information but you can’t attribute it, period.” Also, “it’s up to you to satisfy yourself that it’s good information by doing good reporting.”

Not for attribution

“Able to quote but with a characterization that links it to a smallish number of people.”

Off the record

“Means you can’t quote me. No, I don’t remember . . . You can’t attribute, but you can use it? No, I take that back. If someone says ‘off the record,’ you can’t use it at all.”

So. The next time you go “off the record” with a reporter you know what that means. Errr. Well. Kinda sorta.

Ask the reporter what “off the record” means to them. And never talk to a reporter and then say, “this is off the record”. If you want something “off the record” make this very clear at the outset!

And what if a reporter publishes something you didn’t want to be published? Just never, ever speak to that reporter again.

Problem solved.