Posts tagged ‘off the record’

Your Guide to “Off the Record”

The term “off the record” is commonly expressed and heard, but it can be easily misunderstood. Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you must deal with the media it is imperative that you understand what “off the record” really means.

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The common wisdom in Washington is that if you do not want to read about it on the front page of the newspaper, do not say it or write it, and, if you can, do not even think it. In some cases reporters have been known to burn sources they once promised to protect. Even so, the “off the record” tool can be effective provided that you know how to effectively use it.

In journalism school “off the record” is commonly taught to mean that specified information will only be known to the source, the reporter, and in some cases their editor. Off the record information will not be used in the story. By going off the record you gain the opportunity to communicate with the media without being quoted. You must determine how much you trust the reporter before you decide to employ this tactic. If you have worked with that reporter previously and have established a good rapport with them, you may feel more comfortable about going off the record. On the other hand, if you have never previously worked with that reporter you would certainly have good reason for being wary of talking with them, even off the record.

Always negotiate in advance what “off the record” actually means to that particular reporter. Not everyone defines it in the same manner, so be clear about what it means with each reporter.

While “off the record” generally means that information will not be used publicly or shared with anyone else, there are also two other terms you need to be familiar with. They are “on background” and “on deep Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchbackground.”

The term “on background” indicates that information may be used but the source will not be specifically identified. The source may be described in general terms. The term “on deep background” indicates that information may be used but the source will not be identified in any manner whatsoever.

Understanding these critical terms can help you to develop a better relationship with the media as well as understanding the best way to utilize media tools for your advantage.

To learn more about working with the media, consider TheCapitol.Net’s course Media Relations for Public Affairs Professionals: Media Relations 101, and their Advanced Media Relations Workshop.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 4.12 Off the Record.

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Written Press Statements or Press Interviews – Which is Best?

In determining whether you should offer a written statement or give an interview, there are many different things to take into consideration. In some cases a written statement may actually be preferable to giving an interview – less can be more.


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A written statement works to limit the choices of a reporter regarding what can be quoted. In addition, the written statement increases the chance that you will actually be able to get your desired message across. Written statements also require less time, particularly regarding preparation.

Of course, there are disadvantages to providing a written statement rather than giving an interview. First, it is possible that a reporter becomes offended because she was not provided direct access, which can sometimes harm your coverage. Furthermore, a written statement can sometimes be viewed as a way to cover up guilt. Statements can also come across as sounding “canned,” rather than sincere.

An interview, on the other hand, often sounds more sincere and genuine. When handled appropriately, an interview can enhance your organization. It can also serve to improve your long-term relationship with the reporter handling the interview, which can be beneficial to future coverage.

At the same time, consider the possible disadvantages of an interview. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of giving an interview is that because it is on the record, something said that is inappropriate or unexpected can not be taken back. The reporter also has more opportunities regarding what they quote as well as the message that is covered in the interview. If your message is not advanced as a result of the interview, it can be a significant waste of time.

There are times when an interview may be more appropriate, just as there are times when a Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchwritten statement may be a better choice. Generally, a statement will be a safer choice if it is more likely that a quote will be used. Statements can also reduce the ways in which an organization will be covered if the issue is related to something negative. For individuals who have weak interview skills, a statement is usually the best choice. Even so, a statement can never make up for the charisma that a live person can provide.

Reference: Section 4.8 Issuing Written Statements versus Doing Interviews, in Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch

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