The "Off-the-Record" Rule

All reporters dislike material that is "off the record" at news conferences and during interviews, even when it is used for background purposes. They would prefer a qualified "on the record" to any amount of inside information off the record, so they may feel free to publish all of the information they receive.

The NASW dislikes off-the-record material, except in rare cases where there is no other way to obtain the information. For one reason, an enterprising reporter may through personal initiative and from another source later receive the same information heard off the record.

Also, off-the-record may mean different things to different reporters. To one it may mean that the material is on "deep background" and may not be used in any form in the story. To another it may mean material that may be used but not attributed. If the scientist is willing to reveal information but is unwilling to be quoted, he or she should clearly say so beforehand. The writer will decide whether information on such a basis is acceptable. The scientist should not give the data and then belatedly ask that the information be non-attributable.

Finally, giving off-the-record information is hazardous because in the confusion of researching, writing and editing, it may end up as part of a story, much to the embarrassment of all concerned. The best policy, by far, is to simply make all information on the record and to carefully word such information so that misunderstanding is not likely.

However, if for some overwhelming reason, a scientist feels he or she must place any remarks off the record, these current standards of journalistic ethics should be followed:


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