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Protecting Your Sources

by Chip Berlet, Holly Sklar, and Abby Scher - Z Media Institute

Learn the definitions for journalistic craft terms: On the Record, Off the Record, Not for Attribution, For Background Only, Not for Quotation, Hold for Release, etc. When talking to a source, try to keep the discussion On the Record, but be flexible and move Off the Record if necessary.

Don’t expect that you will remember what is on or off the record: Be sure to mark in your notebook when the discussion goes off the record and when it goes back on. Never make a promise to a source that you cannot in good conscience keep.

Remember, journalists sometimes go to jail to protect confidential sources.

Reference your sources (except those off the record, of course). This is not only ethical, it helps others follow your tracks, find reliable information and do further work in the field. It counters the unhelpful all-knowing guru syndrome. Consciously diversify your sources and interviewees. Fresh perspectives and research are crucial for progress.

In some cases, e.g. books and journals, you can reference with footnotes. In newspapers and many magazines, you have to reference internally within the piece, e.g., “As Shirley Eelpond wrote in her book Tales from Woodshole....”





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