When media training newsmakers, one question that seems to consistently come up when preparing for a media interview is: what is the difference between speaking to a reporter on-the-record, off-the-record, and on
However, knowing the difference between the various types of media interviews, industry terms and having a basic understanding of how reporters identify sources in stories is valuable information to have, so long as you use extreme caution and have a firm understanding of the process.
Understanding the difference between on the record, on
Below is a brief overview of the different types of media interviews and source attributions media use to help ensure you ace your next interview and begin building and strengthening relationships with the media, journalists, and news outlets.
You should assume that on the record is the default scenario for any interaction with the press, whether in passing, at an event, or during a formal interview. In this scenario, all
When talking to a reporter on background, you should be very clear and extremely cautious. On background, which is sometimes referred to as “not for attribution,” means that the information that you tell the reporter can be used, but the journalist cannot directly quote you by name. Some examples of how reporters attribute information from sources speaking on background include: sources close the situation, a company official, government official, industry executive, etc.
When going on background, you must first tell the reporter that you are doing so prior to making any statements. The reporter must also agree to speak to you on
In order to move from on background to back on the record with a reporter, the newsmaker must verbally alert the reporter that he or she is doing so. Sources must be sure that the journalist is clear when newsmakers are moving between on the record and on
However, before requesting to speak to a reporter on background, newsmakers should read the Associated Press (AP) guidelines for using anonymous sources and use them as a gauge for when to make an on-background request of a reporter. AP states material from anonymous sources may be used only if:
- The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report.
- The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source.
- The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information.
Off the Record
The last level of attribution is off the record. Speaking off the record is different from both being interviewed on the record or on
Off the record should only be used with the utmost caution. Newsmakers may want to consider working with a seasoned communications professional to help guide them through this delicate process prior to their interview. This level of attribution should only be used if it is absolutely critical to the reporter’s full understanding of the story and when the newsmaker is unable to give the reporter those same facts or comments on the record. If you are unable to speak on the record about certain issues though, off the record can be a very valuable way to share vital information and other trusted sources and leads with the reporter.
Sources should also be aware that some reporters may not agree to talk with them off the record. Understandably, some journalists feel that if they cannot use the information shared with them, why waste the time? Although, most seasoned journalists will likely see this as a chance to harvest some additional insights that could potentially help them with their understanding of an issue or situation.
However, just like when you are speaking to a reporter on background, it is always helpful to work with a communications or media relations professional before your interview to help ensure you are fully prepared and do not make any assumptions during your interview.