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Off the record vs not for attribution

Off the record describes information that is communicated with the expectation that the listener will not publish the information or attribute the information to the speaker. Off the record also refers to asides in business or criminal proceedings that are not entered into the record. In journalism, off the record is often confused with the term not for attribution. Strictly interpreted, information communicated off the record is only for the edification of the journalist. This information might lead the journalist to other sources. Information that is communicated not for attribution is understood to be fair game for publication while preserving the anonymity of the person who gave the reporter the story. Often, one sees a journalistic story that cites “sources”, a way to keep a reporter’s informants anonymous. In any case, it is wise to spell out what a reporter means by the term off the record before communicating information. The phrase off the record originated with F.D. Roosevelt, the American president during World War II.


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Examples

A foreign ministry official, speaking off the record because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that without a breakthrough, Italy could advise against tourist travel to Egypt and halt cultural or educational exchanges. (Reuters)

Speaking off the record, MKs from the Zionist Union and other opposition parties said that they were not comfortable with the idea of Herzog remaining as opposition leader during a criminal investigation. (Haaretz)

“The level of violence is significantly below where it has been over the last year,” a senior US official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor on April 8. (Al-Monitor)

Elites dismissed tough reforms as simplistic in “not for attribution” interviews with favored reporters, despite the strong intellectual support for many proposals. (The Huffington Post)

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