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Off and on the record

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by KJIM, Apr 5, 2011.

  1. KJIM

    KJIM Well-Known Member

    Scenario: Feature story in a weekly sports-specific publication. An annual award, a generic feel-good piece.

    Talked to two people about the subject. One freely told me the award winner donated his salary to the team in various ways (equipment, ice time, or to help individual families in personal situations). The second guy told me the same thing but asked in advance that it be off the record.

    I told him that another person had confirmed that already, and he asked that I not use it. He said the award winner "wouldn't want it broadcast," but added that the team families already pretty much knew.

    In this scenario, it's not a big deal. I've got enough other "good guy" stuff to cover, but just thought I'd throw this out there for possible discussion.

    Clearly, it's ethical to use it since I had it on the record even before someone else asked that it be off. But considering the second source's request, I wondered if others would use it.

    If the circumstances were different -- a news story, like terms of a contract or someting -- it's a no brainer to use. But in this case, it provides a little more detail about a guy who won an award. It's not vital to the story but adds some depth.

    Would you use it?
  2. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    You may have lost me on the final curve, but once one source tells you something on the record, it really doesn't matter if a thousand others want to tell you the same thing off the record. If anything, of course, the off-record source further confirms what you're being told.
  3. lcjjdnh

    lcjjdnh Member

    Seem to me, like you said, you certainly could use it. Don't think I would, though.

    Costs outweigh the marginal benefit. You're upsetting him to give your readers, at best, only a slightly better picture of a guy you already have enough details to describe well.
  4. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I would call the guy who donated his salary and see if he'd be OK with you using it.
  5. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    I've pondered this question a bit more.

    In a feature setting, I'd probably save that anecdote for another time and place.
  6. HanSenSE

    HanSenSE Well-Known Member

    This. Why are so many people afraid to take the direct approach?
  7. rpmmutant

    rpmmutant Member

    Yeah, why not ask the source if he's ok with putting in the story that he donated his salary? Who cares which second-hand source said it on the record or off the record. Get it from the source who will tell you if it's OK to use or not.
  8. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    I'm guessing the award might be a surprise? Otherwise, why would KJIM have talked to two people about the subject but not the subject himself?
  9. txsportsscribe

    txsportsscribe Active Member

    still don't see why you didn't just ask the subject himself.
  10. Walter_Sobchak

    Walter_Sobchak Active Member

    Far be it for me to know the details of your story, but I think that tidbit is more significant than you're making it out to be. I've never heard a coach do that before. You should have called him.
  11. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Asking a simple question is hard.
  12. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member


    In this case, I would weigh the benefits of using the tidbit in a story vs. the cost of possibly pissing off the one guy.

    If the guy is just a pal of the award winner, that's one thing. If he's the most important coach in your area, that's another.

    In the future, if someone freely tells you something and asks that you not print it when you already have it on the record, I would just make some kind of non-commital response, like, "Wow, it's nice he did that."

    Don't commit. Don't say you already have it on the record. Don't get into a conversation about it at all.

    Just print it if you think it's worth it and attribute it to the other person. That way you get it in the paper and the second guy doesn't have some memory of a conversation where he thinks you undermined him.
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