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IRMCO -- day 1

So a whole group of us are at IRMCO here at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va. It is a gorgeous location overlooking the James River -- not a bad place to spent the last Monday in April.

I ended up forgetting my laptop at home, so I didn't get down here last night in time for the first speaker of the program -- Rebecca Cooper, a reporter for ABC-7/WJLA-TV in DC. Cooper got mixed reviews -- some people thought she went on too long, but everybody thought the Q&A was valuable. One of the areas covered was one of those 'how to work with reporters' issues -- what is off-the-record.

Whenever I talk to people about dealing with the press, it is difficult because these things can mean different things to different reporters.

Here is how the Associated Press describes these things:

These are the AP's definitions:

On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.

Background. The information can be published
but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record.

I wasn't there, but apparently Cooper suggested that off-the-record meant that the information couldn't be used at all. I agree more with the AP version -- it cannot be used for publication. That doesn't mean that it cannot be used. To the contrary, good reporters are going to then go to somebody and say, 'I heard...' and work to confirm the information in other ways.

I guess the main thing to remember dealing with reporters is that it is our job to give people information. (I sometimes find it interesting when people come up to me and want to get the 'real story.' Our job is to get real stories in print -- not to keep it for ourselves. If I know something, we write about it.)

The misconception is that if you tell a reporter something 'off-the-record,' that they won't use it at all.

The general rule is that if you don't want something out there, don't tell anybody -- and certainly don't tell reporters.

But different reporters work in different ways. It is best to ensure that you are on the same page. It can seem clunky, but... better to get that finalized before rather then after the fact.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Apr 30, 2007 at 12:16 PM

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