People who aren’t familiar with reporting think there are only two ways to talk with a reporter: “on the record” and “off the record.” So, almost everyone immediately goes to Off-the-Record because that’s all they know.
In reality, there are (basically) four attribution types, which we have listed below. You have seen all of them used in stories, and will recognize them from the examples.
So, at least at Forward Kentucky, here’s the four attribution types we use.
Forward Kentucky Attribution Definitions
|On the record||The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name. All conversations are assumed to be on the record unless the source requests, and the reporter explicitly agrees, to another type of attribution beforehand.
“Mr. Smith, the treasurer for the campaign, said …”
|Not for attribution||The reporter agrees not to identify a source by name, but only by job or title. That identification must be agreed upon by the reporter and the source, and is almost always given in a way that prevents readers from discovering the source’s specific identity.
“A senior adviser in the administration said …”
|On background||The information is shared, but the source cannot be identified in any way. Typically, the reporter would verify the information with other sources, and not use it unless it can be so verified.
“Multiple sources told this reporter that …”
|Off the record||The information cannot be used for publication. This information is often shared to help the reporter to better understand an issue. Obviously, if another source confirms the information without going off the record, then the information is available for publication, because the original agreement has not been violated. (The original source was not compromised.)|