There’s no such thing as off the record anymore

Journalists face the problem of sticking to their principles versus competing against civilian reporters who are not limited by “off the record”. 

When the subject of an interview says something “off the record”, the journalists conducting the interview is required to not use what is said in their story. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this; going off the record can give a journalist several relative ideas and other sources who might answer on the record to help them complete their story, but on the other hand the journalist is receiving information that they can’t use and believe that this interferes with their ability to report with truthfulness and integrity.

Although this is a general definition of “off the record”, it’s not necessarily the correct one. In fact, one of the other major problems with dealing with “off the record” is several journalists are entirely sure as to what it actually means. For this reason, even those studying public relations urge their proteges to stay on the record. 

In the modern age, however, there are those that believe that it is impossible for anything to be considered “off the record” anymore. Part of this stems from how “civilian reporters” can enter events where official journalists are not allowed and then publish what took place on their own without having to deal with an editor.

In addition to civilian reporters having more freedom with this type of press, during political coverage of the 2012 election it was reported that 60% of Americans don’t trust the mass media to report accurately. Combine this with the image of civilian reporters getting facts to the public that the mass media cannot, and overall major media outlets start to look incredibly untrustworthy and unreliable. 


Journalists first loyalty should be to the public, and with that in mind they must be able to report as much of the truth as possible, however certain aspects such as off the record interviews make it difficult for professional journalists to pursue this. Meanwhile, civilian reporters can reach certain places that the mass media cannot, but would lack the resources and funding to report in the same manner a professional journalist would.

This presents a few ethical dilemmas. Should journalists even pay attention to “off the record” interviews anymore, and instead just pursue the truth straight on? Do off the record interviews decrease the credibility of the journalists and alienate the public due to withholding information? Are civilian reporters a threat to professional journalism in the modern age of media? 


One Comment on “There’s no such thing as off the record anymore”

  1. Debate encircles the shifting definition of a journalist. With the popularity of blogs and twitter, citizens are able to present news without the ethical constraints to traditional journalists subscribe. In reality, increasing “citizen journalists” should not force reporters to significantly alter their methods of gathering news. The game may have changed slightly, but the basic principles remain the same. It is in the best interest of the public and journalists themselves that reporters respect their sources. If a source request information to be off the record, a journalist is obligated not to print what the source revealed. In my opinion, online bloggers should follow the same standards because they protect the sources that provide the backbone of the story and encourage relationships for future interviews. Journalism needs to remain on top of growing trends but not at the expense of credibility.

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