By AMY MARIE OROZCO
Anything said to a journalist may be used in a story, unless a previous agreement has been made—emphasis on previous. Remember that.
Speaking “off the record” needs to be a premeditated act with a very specific agreement reached between the subject and the journalist. For many, “off the record” means the source of the information won’t be named. However, to the Associated Press and journalism schools “off the record” means information given to a reporter is for his or her knowledge only and cannot be used in a public way. Oftentimes, this off-the-record information points the reporter to a new source, one who perhaps—reporters hope—has more leeway to speak “on the record.”
What many people think of as “off the record” is technically called “on background,” which means the information given to a journalist can be used but not attributed by name. The journalist will attribute the information to an agreed upon title such as “city hall insider” or an “executive level source within the company.”
When is it appropriate to speak off the record? When you have very important information of public significance and need a promise of confidentiality, according to the Associated Press Stylebook. Only speak after you have reached a previous agreement with the reporter. The AP Stylebook also advises that “a reporter who reveals the name or identity of someone who was promised confidentiality can be held liable for breach of this agreement.”
For some critics in today’s 24/7 news cycle, off the record has become synonymous with license to attack without accountability. For journalists, off the record and on background remain cornerstones of upholding the First Amendment.
To play it safe with the media, follow Media Manoeuvres Golden Rule: