Can a journalist ever be ‘off the record’?

Jon Sopel, host of the BBC’s Politics Show, said that once journalists make friends, they will get access to more confidential information, which can be tricky. Some of these friends tend to think that (without them mentioning anything) some things naturally will be treated as ‘off the record’ – because of the friendship.

Well, anyone who has journalist friends or relatives should know better. A lot of handbooks on journalism explicitly encourage you to listen closely to the everyday stories, sorrows and on goings in the lives of people close to you.

Think of the bigger picture’ is a line that always is attached to that.

Jon Sopel

What happened to your younger brother at school could affect millions of other schoolchildren. What your mother experiences at work could affect other working women. Even your grandparents or you dog might be potential protagonists for a story – at least in theory.

Therefore all those friends and relatives might be acquainted with sentences like: “Interesting. Tell me more about it.” If the alarm doesn’t go off then, well, what can I say…

In times like these everything can be on the record. ‘Could that be a story?’ seems to be the constantly present question wherever we go.

There doesn’t have to be a notebook, a pen or any recording device present to give an obvious signal.

Of course it goes without saying that journalists need to source information and that they must not misuse trust that was put in them. Things that are clearly marked as ‘off the record’ naturally remain like that – without exception.


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