I want to blame a few people for not being able to write as many posts as I would have liked the last couple of weeks. Normally somebody tips me to something, I investigate, and if I find it interesting then I write about it. Instead there's been a rash, even a flood, of e-mails and phone calls to me that have been "off the record", or even "strictly off the record", or even "in confidence" and "not to be made public."
Fair enough. I like good gossip like anyone else, and if you want to tell me something I can lend an ear, maybe two.
What really struck me were the writers who sent me e-mails without establishing whether the conversation was off the record first. Oops. I was really tempted to print the last e-mail I got like this (it's saved for my memoirs).
Instead, I remembered this primer on "Off the record" from the US State Department, and thought it would be a good time for bloggers, readers and correspondents to refresh themselves on the rules. The State Department standard I think is pretty good and, as any student of foreign policy knows, when it comes to leaking information there is no greater authority than the United States Department of State.
Ground Rules for Interviewing State Department OfficialsMy advice to bloggers and anyone else is to assume that you are always "on the record" unless you clearly lay out ahead of time that you're not, and that both parties agree ahead of time.
Ground rules must be agreed upon at the beginning of a conversation or an interview with State Department officials. The discussion should proceed only after you and the officials are clear on exactly how the information can be used or attributed.
On the Record
Information may be quoted directly and attributed to the official by name and title.
The official's remarks may be quoted directly or paraphrased and are attributed to a “State Department official” or “Administration official,” as determined by the official.
On Deep Background
The source cannot be quoted or identified in any manner, not even as “an unnamed source.” The information is usually couched in such phrases as “it is understood that” or “it has been learned.” The information may be used to help present the story or to gain a better understanding of the subject, but the knowledge is that of the reporter, not the source. No information provided may be used in the story. The information is only for the reporter's background knowledge.
Off the Record
Nothing of what the journalist is told may be used in the story. The information is meant only for the education of the reporter.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I just got some more good gossip in my e-mail. Off the record, of course.
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