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'Off the record'

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by 21, Feb 5, 2007.

  1. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    That Saban thread is so messed up with broken beer bottles and stale pizza crusts, I'm moving over to a cleaner table.

    'Off the record' seems to be one of the subjects that comes up here annually, with absolutely no concensus of what it actually requires or conveys.

    Starman wrote this on the other thread:

    Would anyone disagree? When an interview subject says to you, 'off the record,' have you ever said, 'Um, no...'?
  2. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    As someone mentioned on another thread, covering a beat isn't as neat and tidy and Journalism 101 makes it seem...

    If the coach I cover tells me a story and then says it's OTR, I'm going to honor it. I've actually seen coaches try to go OTR during a press conference that was airing live on the TV and the internet... That led to an interesting discussion with the PR staff...

    Fortunately, the coach I cover, when he goes OTR, he does it beforehand... If he told a story and then said it was OTR, I'd probably negotiate with him.

    "What part are you worried about?"

    "OK, I won't use that part of the quote, but I'm going to use the rest of it.."

    I'm batting about .900 with that method... It's interesting, the part they worry about is rarely the part we want to use...
  3. SixToe

    SixToe Well-Known Member

    I have replied, "No, we are not off the record" in several instances where sources, some of whom are longtime sources with great knowledge but are in positions of power, were shocked that I denied them the privilege.

    I then have explained that the way it works is OTR is granted by me, not them, and I need whatever they are about to say to be On The Record or they better not say it.

    A couple of times they have told me on the record what they wanted to shield. Other times, they clammed up.

    Additionally, I agree with Spnited that if you do not immediately challenge a source's "this is off the record" tossout in the middle of an interview (or clearly set the ground rules beforehand), then you have tacitly agreed with the source.

    If you publish what the source says and he comes back with "That was off the record and you didn't say anything," you may disagree, but the court of public opinion (see Saban) will side with the source.
  4. subhead

    subhead Member

    As mentioned, often when a coach says something is off, it's something you don't even need.

    Several times I've told a person if they don't want something on the record, don't tell me. If you have a working relationship and mutual respect with a coach, it's easy to know how to handle things (and they get more leeway), but when coaches (especially assholes) say something that is useful and you will clearly print, if they later say, 'btw, that part about whatever I mentioned earlier isn't for print,' then I let them know that this interview is on the record and if they want something off, they have to check before speaking.

    And I definitely agree, you have to challenge the "that was off the record' quickly or you've implied acceptance.

    Some people just don't understand off the record is a courtesy by reporters hoping to gain trust and knowledge with information, not a right just because somebody got conversational while being questioned and said more than they wanted to in hindsight.
  5. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    I explain OTR, or at least my version of it, every time I sit down to interview someone. There's less confusion and it keeps things fair. It's like reading them their Miranda rights.

    Obviously this needn't be the case on a beat, where you're dealing with the same folks week in and week out. But it keeps the unhappy surprises to a minimum.
  6. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    If you do that, you're a serious fucking idiot...
  7. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    Yeah, because people out there know all the rules, right? Hell, this place proves journalists can't even agree on the rules.

    So let's use the ambiguity to our advantage, right? Fuck 'em. We might not ever need that source again, right?
  8. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    Fresh crust from the other table:

    We can't even get 10 people on my beat to agree on the terms "off the record," "deep background" and more, which tells me our industry is deficient in setting its own parameters about such matters.

    I agree with Starman that people are conditioned to believe "Hollywood" versions of what "off the record" is, but in the court of public opinion, consider this: more people watch Hollywood movies than go to journalism school, and if you can't even get people who went to journalism school to agree on what is off the record, then that narrows it even further. So, if a public figure says something is off the record and it's printed, the majority of folks out there will assume the media was wrong for reporting it.

    At a time when the media's approval rating is pretty bad, I'd say the court of public opinion would mostly weigh in as follows:

    1) Public figure is a prick for saying that.
    2) Media was ethically wrong for reporting it, but it's kinda good to know.
    3) Just proves you can't trust those bastards, though.
  9. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    How so, Mizzou?
  10. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    If they say "otr" after they've said it, I explain that it isn't.
    If they do it before, I respect it. But in some cases, I will explain that if you want it OTR then don't tell me.
  11. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    I think we see one reason why some of these threads turn ugly. Someone simply explains the way they handle this, and someone who doesn't even know that person immediately calls him "a serious fucking idiot."

    Can we please avoid overreacting on this thread? I mean, nobody's receiving death threats about this yet, right? I'm glad 21 started this thread. I tried to get a serious discussion of this topic going on the locked thread, and I was told it's a dead issue. I think it's obvious it's a topic worthy of discussion.
  12. Lugnuts

    Lugnuts Well-Known Member

    Great points up there, JD.

    I've posted this one before.....

    In college I was working on a story in which I interviewed the student government president. He said something outrageous - very juicy.

    Ten minutes later, he calls back and says, "Don't print that." I told him the interview had been on the record, and he couldn't take it off the record. He said oh yes he could and told me I'd be sorry if I printed it.

    That week, I went to a reception on campus where Bob Woodward was in attendance. I had the honor of meeting him and asked him about the incident.

    He said if the source "knows the game," (i.e. if the source is media-savvy, deals with the media on a regular basis) a source can't retroactively take something off the record after it's already been said on the record. When dealing with the average joe, however, you have to ask yourself if the source knew the rules of the game. Oftentimes, they don't, and they should be allowed to take something off the record.

    Of course, just because you can ethically use the material doesn't mean you have to use the material.

    That's just Bob Woodward's 2 cents! ;D
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