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'Off the record'

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

  1. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    Tell Woodward to come on here and post that story himself, but only under his real name -- if he can free himself from agate duty.
  2. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    Good thread. I don't think a lot of newbies understand how to react when someone they deal with pulls the OTR card. Almost always, coaches and others will say "off the record" before they go into something. I can't remember the last time someone told me something juicy and then said, "oh, by the way, that was off the record." And if he did, I'd probably gently explain how off the record works.

    As Mizzou said, 9 times out of 10, the off the record stuff isn't something that's generally useful anyway. And if it's a truly adversarial interview, like an AD who just fired a coach or is dealing with an NCAA investigation, etc., etc., I probably just tell them I'm not interested in off the record comments right off the bat.
  3. Montezuma's Revenge

    Montezuma's Revenge Active Member

    Aw, what would Bob Woodward know? :) How many Super Bowls has he covered?
  4. Lugnuts

    Lugnuts Well-Known Member

    An interesting tangent to this topic might be when/if something is only implied as off the record, and whether you have the balls to print it... or do you let it go, because you know you'd be up shit's creek if you did print it.

    Example: A coach is elected to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. While laughing, the coach tells a group of 15 reporters that, in essence, it's not important, and the coach wishes they didn't have to bother with it because it's sort of bush league.

    Interesting tidbit.

    Nobody uses it.
  5. Hoop Time

    Hoop Time Member

    There are two things here -- one is what is on or off the record. Clearly, as others have stated, it is up to us to grant that and it is not retroactive. It is also something that should be granted rarely. Ditto for anonymity for sources, which is a related topic.

    What I find works best is to explain how off the record works. Not before the interview, but when the person pulls the post-comment "that was off the record" routine. If it is a source I am going to need to work with a lot in the future, like the head coach on your beat, I usually would give them a mulligan --- explaining I won't use that, but in the future, here is how it works. I have never had that be a problem.

    But that is not a blanket policy. It is one thing is the comment they want kept off the record is no big deal. It is another if they just told you their head trainer supplies the team with steroids. You need to weigh the immediate value of that one statement with the longterm value of gaining the source's trust.

    Keep in mind, too, those off the record statements can be of tremendous value. Even though you cannot print it based on that source's statement, you can seek out a second source to confirm what you now know and attribute it to that source. It is much easier to get the answer to your questions if you already know the truth.
  6. SixToe

    SixToe Well-Known Member

    I think the case Lugs brings up, you would have to find out if the coach is being modest, sarcastic or doesn't want to fool around with the honor because of some specific reason.

    Additionally, HoopTime brings in a new element with confirming an OTR comment or information through other sources. I have done that as well but weighed it against the main source possibly being identified by his peers or others, which might cost me information in the future. Plus, that main source may well have a serious ax to grind and that has to be considered. A tricky road.
  7. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    We talked about similar issues on the first thread. Here is what Saban said before the controversial comments:

    "You guys won't be able to put this (pause) on the thing ..."

    Off the record? Implied?

    I was told it's a dead issue. I'm not so sure.
  8. RedCanuck

    RedCanuck Active Member

    It all comes down to people who are media savvy and people who aren't, at least I've always believed that. If it is someone who doesn't deal with the media too often, I'm more likely to explain how things work to begin with, and more likely to give them leeway if they take missteps.

    If it's a high-profile person who should know better, chances are I'll stick to my guns and maintain they should know better. I have used material before when OTR didn't come up well before the conversation.

    There are some people in this category who I have good enough relationships with that we can slip on and off the record. Sometimes, they give something useful and we'll both know it. In that case, a few of them will actually work with me to get whatever obstacles are in the way out of the way to be able to report on that thought.
  9. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    Thanks 21. I was going to start this thread myself after my debate with Starman but you beat me to it.

    I will merely repeat what I have said on other threads. When the source says "this is off the record," or "you can't print this but" you either tell him, no it's not, or if you don't want me to print it, then don't tell.
    If he says "off the record" and you keep letting him talk without interruption, you have agreed to keep it off the record but not stopping him.

    And if you tell him, no it's not off the record, and he's got good information (not just a rant or racial slurs) he might come back and say, OK you can print it but I'm not the one who told you. That's when you get another source and say "I heard ....." and get a confirmation or denial.

    But, again, if a source believes it's off the record and you don't tell him otherwise, you have agreed to keep it off the record.
  10. Norman Stansfield

    Norman Stansfield Active Member

    The coach I cover (high-major DI hoops) can switch back and forth between on and off the record almost like he's flipping a switch.

    I'll ask him a question -- 'How come Johnny Fuzznuts didn't suit up today?' -- and he'll almost inevitably say, 'On the record or off?'

    I'll say off the record first and he'll say, 'The dumbass skipped his fucking basket-weaving class last week and now he's flunking.'

    Then I'll say on the record for story purposes and he'll say, 'Johnny was attending to a personal matter. We anticipate him to be available ASAP, and look forward to him returning and contributing on both ends of the court.'

    On one hand, I appreciate the fact that more often than not he's willing to tell me what's really going on behind the scenes, which of course gives me a broader and truer view of the program. On the other hand, he pulls the 'on-or-off?' trick quite frequently, which limits what I can use in my stories.
  11. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    Agreed. You want to blow your trust with your main sources, violate this tenet. If he says "off the record" and you don't want the conversation to be OTR, tell him so. If you don't, he's trusting that you won't use that information. This isn't about being "controlled" by a source, it's about professional courtesy.
  12. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Our job is to put people at ease to get them to open up... We're not the police. I mean, I've been a beat writer for over a decade now and I have "off the record" issues with sources a couple times a year... That's it.

    I've done what you do in rare instances if there's a legal issue and the time it happened most recently, there was an attorney in the room... That's been necessary 2-3 times during my whole career...
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