On & Off the Record -- answers to your questions
I hope this note finds each of you well. I've been receiving some questions about on the record and off the record interviews, so I thought I would post an answer to the whole group. Please keep your questions coming, I'm always here for you!
In your newsgathering pursuits there are three types of interviews or quotes a source can give you:
On-the-record – means that the source is authorizing you to use his or her name, description and identifying details and quote what he/she had to say fully in your article. (You may also paraphrase this kind of source while still giving them credit for the information.) Make sure the names of your on the record sources are always spelled correctly.
Off-the-record – means that a source will talk to you but you CANNOT use the sources name. You may use some general descriptive information to validate the source (i.e. says a woman, 31, who has worked in the streets for years.) the information that you’ve learned from this source but it should be verified by one other person or one document. In some instances however, there will not be any other source who can verify what someone is telling you, if it is a personal story. Remember to only grant anonymity to a source when you feel he or she has a valid reason. And most importantly, give your reader a brief reason why you have granted anonymity to a source. For example, .....who did not want to identify herself for fear of reprisal from her employer.
On Background – On background means that your entire conversation with a source CANNOT be used. You cannot use a sources name or the information that he or she gives you. You may take the information you learn from a “background” source and try to find it from other on the record sources.
Remember, your word and your honor are a big part of your career! If you promise someone anonymity or “background” status, you MUST honor it. You may only divulge the names of confidential sources to your editor and mentor, who are also obligated to protect your sources.