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Off the Record

“Off the record” is a term used in journalism meaning that the information given to the reporter cannot be attributed to the person saying it.

Off the record quotes are often used to protect sources who are giving information that could get them in trouble.

However, the term off the record has picked up many misconceptions.

To be off the record, the journalist must agree to it. A person cannot declare himself off the record after statements are made and hope his statements will not be reported.

If the source does not want the quote to be reported, with attribution or without, they must agree to it with the reporter beforehand.

The Guardian explains:

Let’s face it, down the years we have been here many, many times. People say things to journalists, possibly in a light-hearted fashion, that end up in print. Inevitably, “official” denial follows. They may also fail to grasp what we mean by “off the record.”

For journalists, it simply means that it is reportable as long as the source is not identified.

“Off the Record” conversations in politics

In politics, “off the record” communications can be a valuable tool for both politicians and journalists.

For politicians, it provides a way to share insights, intentions, or background information without the risk of those comments becoming public and perhaps generating controversy.

It can foster a more open and candid dialogue, as politicians may feel more comfortable sharing unfiltered opinions or sensitive information under this agreement.

For journalists, “off the record” conversations can provide valuable context and a deeper understanding of a political issue, even if they cannot report the information directly.

It helps in building relationships and trust with sources, who might be more willing to share information if they know it won’t be used against them or misconstrued in the public eye.

For instance, a “backgrounder” is an off the record briefing given to journalists. This means that direct quotes cannot be attributed to a specific person.

Use of “Off the Record” in a sentence

  • The senator agreed to discuss the controversial policy proposal, but only “off the record,” ensuring that the journalists present would not directly quote or attribute her candid thoughts to her publicly.
  • During the intense negotiations, the party leaders held several “off the record” meetings to explore potential compromises without the pressure of public scrutiny or media coverage.
  • A campaign advisor provided “off the record” insights into the candidate’s strategy for the upcoming debate, allowing reporters to gain a deeper understanding of the campaign’s direction without being able to cite the information in their stories.