A Colorado reporter explains ‘off the record’ to a source — and to readers


A reason a source of news coverage might want to retroactively make something off the record could be a realization they said something embarrassing, unguarded, untrue, or (more likely) something that won’t make them come off well; they’d like to take it back. Another might be they earnestly believed their conversation was “on background,” “off the record,” “not for attribution,” or otherwise not “on the record.”

Because those phrases can mean different things to different people — I’ve found two journalism textbooks that define “off the record” in opposite terms — it is important for journalists to make sure they are on the same page with their sources about the context in which they are speaking when someone wishes to talk in a way that is not on the record.

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