Tuesday, March 23, 2021 (703) 533-0403
What does it mean to go “off the record” with a reporter? An updated report, Can We Talk Off the Record? Increasing Understanding Between Reporters and Media Relations Experts, answers that question and more.
The author, Barks Communications President Ed Barks, emphasizes the report’s goals. “First, the communications and journalism professions need to arrive at a standard definition for these important terms of art. Additionally, it is my hope that the research will serve to build a bridge between the two vocations, which too often look askance at one another.”
In an effort to minimize confusion, Can We Talk Off the Record? contains definitions for these techniques sometimes employed by skilled media relations experts and reporters:
- On the record
- Off the record
- On background
- Not for attribution
“Media relations staffers and journalists alike have a responsibility to share this report and its definitions with our colleagues, and to the professional societies to which we belong if we have any hope of gaining a common understanding,” Barks says.
The original research examined attitudes of veteran journalists and communications experts toward the use of such interviews.
The updated report adds new layers of understanding. For instance, it expands and clarifies the definition of what off the record means, noting that it includes not only the words spoken, but also “Anything the reporter can see, hear, smell, or taste” such as “documents left in plain sight, the visible screens of any devices, office décor, hallway conversations, nonverbal signals.”
Barks also raises what the report calls, “a serious ethical question for reporters: Is it principled for one reporter to tell another about an off the record conversation with a source?” He disagrees with the viewpoint of one high profile journalist cited.
The author also adds a passage about conditions under which a reporter might break a pledge of going off the record, writing, “If a reporter suspects a source of shady conduct or knows the source has been untruthful in the past, they should confront it openly, informing the source that lying will result in the voiding of the off the record agreement.”
The update also contains a cautionary note for businesses with respect to their media relations operations: “Companies that fail to employ ex-reporters in their media relations shop place their businesses at a severe disadvantage. I would go so far as to argue that they are practicing corporate malpractice.”
Part of the original impetus behind the research was the fact that some media training consultants make claims like “off the record is a lie” or “there is no such thing as off the record.”
Such assertions, Barks says, are “not only just plain wrong and ill-informed, they are dangerous, and represent a fundamental ignorance of tried and tested media relations techniques.”
Can We Talk Off the Record? is available online for a limited time from Barks Communications.
Ed Barks works on extended engagements with Fortune 1000, Inc. 500, and association clients that want to refine their message and sharpen their executives’ communications skills. They gain an enhanced reputation, greater confidence, more opportunities for career advancement, and achievement of long-term business and public policy goals. He is the author of three books: Reporters Don’t Hate You: 100+ Amazing Media Relations Strategies, A+ Strategies for C-Suite Communications: Turning Today’s Leaders into Tomorrow’s Influencers, and The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations. As President of Barks Communications, he has taught more than 5500 spokespeople how to succeed when they deal with the media, deliver presentations, and advocate before policymakers.
Editors: For a copy of the full report, contact Ed Barks at (703) 533-0403 or via email.