Go on the record

Posted by ESC on November 07, 2004

In Reply to: Go on the record posted by TheFallen on November 07, 2004

: : : Hi:

: : : What is the exact meaning of "go on the record" as in?

: : : "A group of journal editors announced a policy requiring all clinical trials to be registered from the get-go to be considered for publication in their journals. They expect this policy to reduce the bias toward favorable results, because researchers will have gone on the record before they know how the study will turn out."

: : : Is it to make a public, formal declaration?

: : : Thanks.

: : : JC

: : When being interviewed by journalists, there is a convention that allows some remarks to be "off the record" as long as both parties clearly agree to it. These remarks are given as background only, not to be quoted or attributed to the interviewee. Remarks made "on the record," which is the normal condition, are fair game for the journalist to quote and publish. There's another gray area of quotes "not for attribution," which are words that can be quoted, but not with a speaker's name attached.

: I thought that this term originated from the courtroom, where normally a transcript of all statements, examinations and cross-examinations is kept by the stenographer. Very occasionally, a judge will ask for statement or comment to be "stricken from the record", which then effectively makes that comment unowned and therefore unattributable - it's no longer a matter of record.

There are those who say never go "off the record" with a reporter. Never say anything that you don't want on the front page of the morning paper. I recently attended a conference where a veteran journalist disagreed. But in the next breath, he told how he "burned" a source (James Carville) because what Mr. Carville said was so "good."

So, if you are going off the record, make sure the reporter is someone you can trust. And don't say anything until ground rules are set about what "off the record" means. For example, it could mean:
* The reporter will use the quote but won't use your name. Information may be used -- "a secretary in the mayor's office" -- that will identify you.
* The reporter won't use the quote in the newspaper (or on the air) but will use the information to try and get a quote from another person.
* What you said won't be used but will be background information.