Is this ‘off the record?’

Interview Preparation: Tactics for Sharing Information

You’ve seen it in a million tv shows: Someone says, “This is off the record…” (reporter leans in) and the resulting headline tells the real story without identifying the source. Handy trick, right?

In real life, it’s usually not that easy. Reporters want to be able to quote you and cite their source. If you give them info they want to use but tell them they can’t quote or name you, that means more work for them. They have to find another source or badger you until you let them use what you said. Also, if you tell them one thing on the record and another off the record, you’re compromising your credibility. (Not good!)

Understanding how reporters get their information is important before embracing an interview opportunity.

  • On the record – The reporter is allowed to quote everything you say in the interview. This is what you should expect any time you talk to a reporter unless you specify otherwise.
  • Off the record – The reporter may not use your off-the-record comments in the news piece but a good reporter can usually find another way or another source to cite. We advise most clients to avoid this unless they’re highly experienced with talking to reporters.
  • Background – The reporter is allowed to quote information from the interview, but not offer the source’s name. It is crucial to lay out expectations of how you will be identified — i.e. “a senior official in the White House”, “a source close to the Chairman” — prior to speaking on background.
  • Deep background – The reporter may not use a quote or a name, only the general information you give in an interview, “according to an expert.”

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