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The 15-Seconds Blog

  • Don’t Walk Into An Ambush

    Photo: Stars and Stripes

    A story in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes says that reporters who seek opportunities to embed with military units in Afghanistan have their previous work vetted by a controversial PR firm, The Rendon Group, on behalf of the Department of Defense before being granted permission to accompany U.S. troops into action.

    The story quotes a military spokesperson saying:

    “We have not denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography,” said Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a public affairs officer with U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul. “It’s so we know with whom we’re working.”

    Sounds reasonable to us.

    If you don’t do you homework, you can end up with stories like this:

  • No Such Thing As “Off the Record”

    One of the points we stress when we teach people how to deal with the news media is a simple one: there is no such thing as “off the record.”

    The correct definition of “off-the-record” is information which reporters cannot quote and cannot be used in a story. But a column by Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander today reveals that:

    ….roughly half of (Washington Post reporters he polled) were confused about the basic ground rules for dealing with sources. Most knew that information obtained “on background” could be used without naming the source (example: “a high-level State Department official”). But many wrongly believed that allowing a source to speak “off the record” meant the information could be used. To the contrary, Post rules say: “By our definition, off-the-record information cannot be used, either in the paper or in further reporting.” If Post reporters are confused, chances are it’s not clear to their sources.

    The only safe practice is to never say anything to a reporter that you don’t expect to see included in his or her story.