Home > Awards, Story of the day > Story of the day: Matthew Claxton calls BS on ‘off the record’

Story of the day: Matthew Claxton calls BS on ‘off the record’

March 10, 2011

Today’s Ma Murray-nominated piece of community journalism comes via Langley Advance reporter/columnist Matthew Claxton. Matthew’s nominated for the columnist award. Any reporter will chuckle at one of the pieces he submitted: a tale about a talkative bureaucrat who tries to go off the record after the fact.

Did I say the word reporter when I left my message, when I talked to the receptionist? Possibly not. But I definitely named the newspaper I worked for. The bureaucrat also called me back, and our receptionist reflexively answers the phone by saying “Langley Advance, a Canwest company.” If you call a bakery, you expect to find bakers there, right?

My interview subject then informed me that everything he had just said was “off the record.” He seemed quite smug. As though he had just checkmated me. Oh, no. It doesn’t work like that.

There is no magic reset button when you are talking to a reporter. Saying something is off the record, after a 15-minute conversation, carries about as much weight as seven-year-olds shouting “Jinx!” or “Punchbuggy!” in the back seat of a mini-van.

  1. March 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I had someone do that to me once. It was minor story, really, but the source came off looking unprofessional and amateurish. So it goes.

    Later in the day the source called back. He’d talked to his lawyer, he told me, and said everything we’d discussed earlier in the day was off the record.

    What a load of bull. Either the source: a) had a terrible lawyer who didn’t know a thing about journalism and the law or b) he was making it all up. I think b) was the answer.

    I told him you can’t retroactively declare “off the record” and he was pissed.

    It did feel good to set somebody straight on that.

    “Off the record” is an interesting phenomenon. There’s no legal backing around it, but we as journalists should respect it when used appropriately as it helps build trust with our sources. Burn too many bridges and you won’t get anywhere on a story. Especially living in a small town.

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