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"Off the record"

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Millionaire, Mar 9, 2008.

  1. Millionaire

    Millionaire New Member

    I'm new to this field and this site, I was just wondering what the consensus is on this statement. When someone tells you, "This is off the record, but ... " What are you supposed to do? What if they give you a great scoop you feel like you have to run with?

    It's not your job to be an athlete's friend, but where is the line between being a friend and being respectful? They told you something in confidence. Is it more important that you respect their wish, so as to maintain a healthy relationship with the source?
  2. This topic comes up on here a lot, so you could learn plenty by searching for the phrase.
    The quick hits are:
    1) Off the record is supposed to be something the journalist agrees to before being told the information. Technically, nothing is ever off the record until you say it is.
    2) However, you want to be careful about that. If you burn a source once, they might never be a source again (and others might follow their lead). If you're going to do it, it better be a huge story that will get you a better job and is truly worth the potential cost.
    3) Most of us have some understanding that the vast majority of people don't understand the rules and we give some leeway in those cases.
    4) I would never, ever, ever use something I agreed was off the record.
    5) But that doesn't mean you can't go get it from someone else. If a coach tells you something off the record but you get it from a player on the record, you just leave out what the coach said -- or you give him/her a chance to comment on the record about what you just got on the record.
    6) There is a difference between "off the record" and "on background," which most non-journalists don't get. "On background" means not for attribution. "A source close to the program said" is on background. "Off the record" means it will not be published.
    Hope that helps.
  3. I give no leeway.
    OTR only if agreed upon before that.
    Afterwards, tough.
  4. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    It's not like you are putting person under oath. Do you think that style leaves people reticent to give you future interviews?

    Would you consider cutting people slack who you know are not media savy like say Newt Gingrich's mom?
  5. earlyentry

    earlyentry Member

    Do reporters ask, "Would you care to say something on background?", and then explain to the source what that means?"
  6. Not so far, Boom.
    No slack.
    Know the rules, folks.
  7. You and I have a slight disagreement here.

    Off the record to me means I don't use it at all. I don't pursue it and I don't even repeat it. What if the source is one of only two people who know something - obviously people are going to figure out who my source is if I start pursuing it. I try to find out the earliest I will be able to use it.

    When I want to use information a source has, I explain it as on background. I ask them if it's ok if I try to corroborate it some other way. I've also found that most of the time people say off the record they mean background - they don't mind you telling the information but they don't want their name in the paper.

    Millionaire, the bottom line is talk with your source ahead of time to figure out what they want because no two journalists are going to have the same definition and many laypeople aren't going to know what the heck you're talking about.

    And always try to get your information on the record first.
  8. longgone

    longgone Member

    I've always worked using this rule: "Off the record" means that both the person speaking and the journalist have agreed that it's off the record. In other words, if you're at one of those booster group meetings where the coach talks about recruiting or whatever and then says, hey, that's off the record. Well, no it's not.
  9. Write, I agree there are cases where it's not worth pursuing something because it would still burn a source.
    However, there are also times that many people know something and just because you are told about if off the record doesn't mean you can never find that information another way.
    Otherwise, you're letting your sources dictate what you can and cannot write at all. Why don't they just always tell you the bad stuff off the record to assure you never print any of it in the paper?
  10. So we're not that far off from one another. I was just saying you have to watch out for how you 'find out that information another way.' I don't let sources dictate what I do, but I do take steps to make sure they're not burned for talking to me.
  11. Yeah, we agree.
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