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'Off the record'

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

  1. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    I used to work at a Gannett place and we had the same policy -- no unnamed sources, for any reason.

    Didn't stop our best reporters from doing very good work.
  2. henryhenry

    henryhenry Member

  3. MC Sports Guy

    MC Sports Guy Member

    Whenever a coach/source claims OTR, you just have to ask yourself a simple question: Is this info vital to my story or worth blowing a source over? If it's not, then honor OTR. If it is, then don't. The whole thing is a big fat gray area. You can't just say "it's always this way in this situation" or "it's always that way in that situation." Every situation is unique.

    That said, starman is right about the guy in his shop that offers up OTR before asking a question. That's horrible and I'd reprimand any of my guys if I heard them doing that.

    About anonymous sources, I don't like them either. In fact, whenever someone sends an e-mail anonymously or leaves a phone message without a number or name, I pay little or no attention to it. Now, I have a source who always tells me about things that are going on (this person knows everything about everything), which allows me to ask the right questions of the right people. To me, that's the only way an anonymous source is acceptable, when it's used to acquire info to go to another source with. The thing is, most people probably know that this person is the one supplying info, but leaving their name out of it satisfies said source.
  4. RedCanuck

    RedCanuck Active Member

    Really? Here, and from my understanding, in most states and provinces, if you're one of two parties to a phone conversation, you're perfectly legal to tape it without permission as long as you don't broadcast their voice.
  5. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Some basic guidelines and legal information on the subject (dated 2003, so laws may not be current for each state):

  6. Columbo

    Columbo Active Member

    Jim DeFede wishes (actually, probably doesn't care) that he had lived where you live.
  7. ajw1978

    ajw1978 New Member

    It's ironic. I came online to see if I could find advice on a project I'm working on which will require extensive use of "deep background" and off the record sources for preliminary verification.

    Having also covered news as well as regular sports beats, OTR is a touchy, touchy subject. In my experience, I almost always use tape. Not just because I can't read my own handwriting, but because it can save your ass in the long run. Also, having worked in radio, I have the equip on my laptop to import audio files. For major, enterprise stories, I usually import all my tape so I can check back on it, and have it safe in the event my copy is later challenged. It's a lot of work, no doubt, but at the same time ... so is looking for a job after you get shitcanned for made-up quotes.

    Also, if I'm in a situation where OTR may be necessary, I preface the conversation. I don't think you can go fully OTR in retrospect or hindsight. An earlier poster mentioned a tactic of finding out what part of the quote may need to be kept quiet and working around it. I think that is helpful in some situations, too.

    Like anything else in this biz, alot of it is your own interpretation and what it is you're trying to accomplish.
  8. msarzo

    msarzo Guest

    The first one to me is what I think "off the record" means. Don't use it at all. The second one sounds more like "not for attribution."

    The last time I had a "off the record" come up in an important story was six years ago. In that case, however, my source was explicit that I could use the facts (and even quote verbatim what he said) as long as I didn't use his name. Since it was critical to the story, I agreed, and then I immediately told my managing editor who it was and what he said.

    The other time it came up that I remember vividly was when I asked Brian Kamler about the fact that D.C. fans booed Jake Dancy (who broke his collarbone during a "friendly" two years prior to that particular game). Since he was usually a great source and is genuinely a great guy, I agreed to honor it. Besides that, what he said wasn't exactly earth-shattering. But I digress.
  9. PressBoxJunky

    PressBoxJunky New Member

    A lot of times, if I'm presented with an OTR situation, I'll ask my source if I can use it as background information or - if it's very important and I trust my source - if I can use it without attribution. I think it's a matter of personal preferance and what your paper allows.
  10. Ira_Schoffel

    Ira_Schoffel Member

    Spnited's argument sounds good ... but it doesn't hold water in many cases.

    Take, for example, the situation that spawned this argument. Saban, out of the blue, begins a story by saying, "Y'all can't print this, but ..."

    Because Darlington didn't stand up and say, "No, Coach. You cannot go off the record because I have not agreed to go off the record," Spnited says that Darlington has tacitly agreed to Saban's request.

    That's nonsense. How can a reporter agree or not agree to go off the record when he has no clue what the source is going to say? Saban could have said anything at that point ... something racist, something unethical, something illegal ... and Spnited will tell you that he's free and clear because the reporters didn't speak up ahead of time.

    There is a time when Spnited's argument applies. If you're doing an interview about a specific subject and the source asks to go off the record and you don't stop him, then yeah, I can see what Spnited's saying. For example:

    Reporter: "Did the coaches know the boosters were paying you?"

    Player: "Well, see, uh ... Let me tell you how it all started, but it's got to be off the record."

    Now there's a choice to make. And yes, if the reporter just sits there and never says anything while allowing the kid to keep talking, then I would agree it should be off the record.

    But in a situation like the one with Saban, I don't think there's any reason Darlington and the other reporters should have respected his request (which wasn't even a request in the first place). They couldn't possibly make a decision because they had no clue where he was going to take them.
  11. slipshod

    slipshod Member

    Off the record needs to be said ``before'' the comments. It's usually a tidbit that's nice and interesting and maybe can serve for context for a future story. ``Background'' means it's information that can be considered when writing future stories. ``Sources'' must ask for anonymity or at least agree to be an unnamed source when asked, clearly and not just implied.

    That's the way I've always done it, but I've seen others play fast and loose with the above.
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