A Reporter’s Take on “Off the Record”

The fur often flies when communications experts enter into discussions about “off the record” and other such forms of dealing with reporters. A number of years back, New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney was quoted in the Washington Post as saying:

“If someone wants to go off the record, call me up, and I’ll be glad to negotiate. But you cannot do it preemptively. I will not let someone attack someone else anonymously, which is what the Kerry campaign is trying to do.”

I’ve kept this quote in my back pocket ever since that 2004 presidential campaign. Nagourney was reacting to criticism from press officers in the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful (and current Secretary of State) John Kerry. The candidate’s press staff sent information to Nagourney with a request that he use it “on background” (i.e., the reporter cannot quote his source either by name or by other identification).

Nagourney has it right. Even greenhorn press liaisons should realize that everything is on the record unless you and the reporter specifically agree otherwise in advance. Staffers in Kerry’s press operation could have used a remedial media training session. Wonder where they are now and who they’re advising. Let’s hope they’ve learned a few things since that amateur campaign kerfuffle.

How would you have handled this type of outreach to the press?

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