To shed some light on how journalism works, The New York Times has launched a series of short posts that explains some of its practices.
This includes how the paper uses anonymous sources and what “off the record” really means.
Here are some highlights:
“Off the record,” “on background,” “not for attribution,” “embargoed,” “for planning purposes only,”: There is no universally agreed-upon meaning for many of these terms, making it difficult to sketch out even working definitions. So you have to work it out with your sources about how you want to proceed, and do so in clear language so there’s no misunderstanding.
At GroundFloor Media, we’ve explained this issue in the past, and as a rule of thumb, we recommend it is never a good idea to go “off the record” with reporters.
Anonymous sources: Under the Times’ guidelines, “anonymous sources should be used only for information that we think is newsworthy and credible, and that we are not able to report any other way. When the anonymous sourcing is central to the story, it generally must be approved by an even higher-ranking editor like a deputy managing editor.”
Corrections: “The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper.”