Let’s talk about “off-the-record” — what it is, what it isn’t, why it’s a bad convention that’s antithetical to what we do as journalists, and why reporters should resist having off-the-record conversations.
The day after 9/11, 2001, I got to interview my cousin Theresa, who escaped from the 57th floor of Tower I after it was hit by the plane. Thirteen years later now, I have read the story I wrote for the Custom Orthotics website based upon that interview. It gave me chills, not because of the way it was written or constructed, but for the sheer drama and terror of the catastrophe it describes.
News organizations change the leads of stories all the time: to update, clarify, and correct. When it happens with The New York Times, it gets more attention, especially when the subject of the story is a political scandal.
Here is the original lead of the Times story posted Friday on Chris Christie and Bridgegate, written by Kate Zernike:
My brother frequently drives from New Jersey to New York across the George Washington Bridge to visit our 94-year-old mom. Her name is Shirley Clark, and she likes Chris Christie. She prefers her politicians to be straight talkers. She would agree with George Orwell that the best political rhetoric is “demotic,” a fancy word for the “voice of the people.”