- Since our launch, several companies or individuals have asked DL News to delete stories.
- DL News is committed to correcting errors promptly and transparently.
- Also, if new information comes to light which significantly alters a story, we will update and alert readers to the change.
- But we will not in any circumstances edit our stories to suit someone who wishes they had spoken more cautiously than they did.
Robert Holloway is the DL News ombudsman. Opinions expressed are his own.
Henry Kissinger is said to have paused during an interview to declare: “this is all off-the-record.” To which the reporter replied, “from now on it is.”
The story cannot be verified. Kissinger is formidably smart and media-savvy, and unlikely to fall into a trap of his own making. And it would take a lot of nerve to defy a man who was at the time US Secretary of State.
True or not, the story illustrates a problem which many reporters face at some point.
People sometimes regret what they have told a journalist once they see their words in print. If they cannot retract what they said, they claim that they did not agree to be quoted.
In the six months since our launch, several companies or individuals have asked DL News to delete stories. Others have sought to have their names removed, even when they were in the public domain and the subject had confirmed them.
In at least one case, we were asked to omit the name of the city where an interview was held, even though it had been clearly explained as on-the-record.
This happens frequently in traditional finance or general journalism too, but the focus on anonymity is especially strong in crypto. Because so much crypto reporting is done online, to publish details about people is readily denounced as ‘doxxing.’
DL News is committed to correcting errors promptly and transparently. Also, if new information comes to light which significantly alters a story, we will update and alert readers to the change.
But we will not in any circumstances edit our stories to suit someone who wishes they had spoken more cautiously than they did. To do so even once would be a disservice to ourselves, to our readers and to journalism as a whole.
it would invite a host of spin doctors, flacks, shills, and public relations agents to demand special treatment. Readers would reasonably wonder how many times we had given in to pressure. It would create a precedent for other media.
Let us be clear. If someone knows they are talking to a reporter but does not explicitly insist on remaining nameless, they cannot complain about being quoted.
As the DL News Code of Ethics notes, there is no universally agreed definition of “off-the-record.” It says that if a source tells a reporter that something is off-the-record, “you should make sure that you agree precisely what that means.”
It is a journalist’s job to make the story as clear as possible. From the reader’s point of view, the more identification the better. In some cases, that is true for the source as well.
Suppose that researchers have discovered harmful side-effects in a pharmaceutical drug that is marketed to reduce blood pressure. A researcher is unlikely to allow a journalist to name them for fear of being sued by the drug manufacturer.
On the other hand, a researcher who is willing to talk almost certainly wants to see the information published. A journalist who says simply “I have learned that …” or “It is understood that…” writes without authority and risks not being taken seriously.
Our Code of Ethics is partly inspired by the work of the Ethical Journalism Network. The EJN’s guidelines say a reporter should always ask “am I confident the source fully understands the conditions of our interview and what I mean by off the record?”
Absent a clear agreement to the contrary, someone who gives their name to a reporter should assume that anything they say will be quoted directly.
The important thing is that they are not duped into saying something they might regret.
To quote our Code again: Reporters must always try to obtain information by fair means. In particular, they should identify themselves as journalists and not pretend to be someone else.
Once that condition is respected, and provided that they have been quoted accurately and in context, the source has no grounds for complaint and DL News is not required to amend what it has published.
Our reporters and editors work for the benefit not of the source, but of the reader.