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Off the record?

June 18th, 2013 | Posted by Amy Boughner in PR | Work


An interesting discussion took place on Twitter this morning concerning off the record and embargoed information.

The discussion centred around this story about the PMO sending information to the Barrie Advance and requesting that it be attributed to “a source.” The story written revealed where the information came from and the request that had been made.

Now I’ve worked in comms, I’ve sent out press releases, some of which were embargoed. I also went to journalism school where I learned, and internalized the idea, that when you go off the record, you do so only if you would be willing to go to jail to protect your source (meaning the information is important enough and your source could be in trouble if people found out where the information came from).

I had always thought embargoed information was different, kind of like a lock-up for the budget. It gives reporters advance notice of what’s happening, giving them time to prepare a story that can go public as soon as the embargo lifts.

Discussing this with several reporters on Twitter (@davidakin, @SusanDelacourt and @AlisonCrawford5) this morning, they agreed that they view information given off the record and under embargo the same way: the caveat has to be agreed to in advance for it to be respected.

It is unreasonable for the PMO to have sent that information and instructing the newspaper that it be “on background” or attributed anonymously without first contacting the reporter to see if he wanted that information on those terms. If a reporter receives the information without accepting those terms, they have no responsibility to use the information under those terms.

It’s not something I had thought about before, but it’s perfectly logical.

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