Brian Lewis, a newspaper reporter, explained in a column in The Tennessean the different levels of speaking with reporters:
Off the record: “To have an off-the-record conversation means that the information will not be used in any way in a story. Many editors, including mine, don’t allow reporters to have off-the-record conversations.”
On background: “To have an on-background conversation means that the information may be used in a story, but the person who is talking will not be named in connection with the information that is ‘on background.’”
On the record: “This is the standard conversation with reporters. However, reporters should identify themselves as working on an article before beginning an interview…once a statement has been made on the record, it cannot be taken off-record.”
My advice to ad agencies is to never speak off the record, unless you really know and trust the reporter.
Even then, there are risks.
Consider this headline from a story by the New York Times News Service: “India’s nuclear identify unclear.” The subhead reads: “’Off the record, we are totally unprepared’ says one of its top military strategists.”
So, the writer admits to publishing what the person he interviewed clearly thought was off the record. I wonder how the career of the person he interviewed is going these days, and whether he is still one of India’s top military strategists?
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Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.