Readers Note: What follows this note is based on the post, The Chronicle & "off the record," and its comment thread.
If you’re not very familiar with them, I encourage you to read them before reading what follows.
On the comment thread of The Chronicle & "off the record," someone self-IDing as JeffM offered this comment:
JohnNone of us, excepting JeffM, can be sure whether JeffM is a journalist, a troll trying to make journalists look bad, a sincere but befuddled non-journalist, or what.
People respond to reporters off the record all the time, and it is honored. I know; I have done it.
I think it is simple courtesy to honor a request that a response not be quoted. I also think that it is fair in that case to say that you got no response when what you clearly asked for was a publishable response. Quite honestly, if I responded to a query of yours with the request that you not publish it and you did publish it, I would never respond to any query from you again.
Tell me: if someone says that he is telling you something in confidence, do you always feel yourself free to violate that confidence?
That said, JeffM’s comment is a useful stimulus to consideration of important practical and ethical matters journalists face, whether they be student journalists at the high-school level or professionals well into their careers.
I want to use JeffM's comment to share some thoughts on those matters.
JeffM’s sentences are in italics; mine are in plain.
People respond to reporters off the record all the time, and it is honored. I know; I have done it.I’ve no problem with that statement as long as “off the record” has been agreed to in advance by both parties who’ve talked about the parameters of what’ll be “off the record;” and as long as the person seeking to go “off the record” has given the journalist a clear idea why it’s in the interests of the journalist's news reporting to do so.
I think it is simple courtesy to honor a request that a response not be quoted.Whoa, Nellie! What does “honor a request” mean?
If someone without any prior discussion begins his responses to a set of questions with “off the record” as Chronicle Editor Graham did with the questions I asked him, do you “honor” the “request,” which really didn’t come as a request but as a declaratory statement?
Ah, look! JeffM’s already given us his answer
So JeffM believes “it is fair .. to say you got no response” when you clearly do get a response.
I also think that it is fair in that case to say that you got no response when what you clearly asked for was a publishable response.
Can you see, folks, why I say JeffM may be a journalist but may also be a troll trying to make journalists look bad?
Some journalists do operate the way JeffM advocates. But as I said in my earlier post, “people concerned with news reporting, be they advisors to high school newspapers or editors at major newspapers, fight it.”
This link is to The Committee of Concerned Journalists' site and former Washington Post reporter William Prochnau’s memorial tribute to David Halberstam, who earned a Pulitzer for his reporting from Vietnam which exposed falsehoods the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were telling Americans.
Prochnau speaks in detail about Halberstam’s contempt for reporters who failed to maintain their independence, eagerly went “off the record,” and thoroughly enjoyed the Kennedy hosted parties they were invited to.
Quite honestly, if I responded to a query of yours with the request that you not publish it and you did publish it, I would never respond to any query from you again.JeffM here helps us understand one reason some reporters and editors get “frozen out” by some sources: the journalists won’t treat as “off the record” statements by government leaders, university administrator or faculty members, business executives, etc. just because they say “off the record.”
A journalist once told me of a presidential nomination candidate’s campaign staff: “If you write one kind of story, they freeze you out; if you write another kind, they ask how much ice you want in your glass.”
A lot of that goes on. I think more than the public realizes.
Tell me: if someone says that he is telling you something in confidence, do you always feel yourself free to violate that confidence?Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
People have told me things about other people that were slanderous. They’ve said it was all in confidence.
But I’ve sometimes repeated what I was told to the person being slandered when I’ve thought doing so would put the person being slandered in a better position to counter the slander.
On the other hand, I remember a time my wife told me she thought I’d talked too much at a dinner party.
I kept that confidence for more than thirty years until just now.
And I’m disclosing it “off the record.” So now you can't report it.
Moving on - - -
In the near future I’ll post again about “off the record” and the problems and challenges it poses for bloggers and journalists.
I'll relate a lot of what I write to the Duke Hoax case.
Those of you who wish to read what Prochnau says about Halberstam in regard to “off the record” kinds of matters, scroll about half way down until you come to the single sentence graf: “Halberstam’s relationships with both Washington officialdom and the Washington press corps were ballistic.”
Since this post grew out of the exchange I had with Chronicle Editor Graham and comments extensively and critically on the exact use Graham made of “off the record,” I plan to send him a link for his information.
I’ll also encourage him to respond here or in The Chronicle.
I’ll send the link in an email I’ll post later today.