Brian Merchant is all kinds of right when he calls “on background” journalism a scourge, identifying it as “a toxic arrangement” which “shields” the company or government in question from accountability. I appreciate the cited instances in which The Verge’s Nilay Pate refused to use a statement from YouTube because they refused to be on the record and Gizmodo’s Tom McKay ignored YouTube’s attempt to preemptively label a statement “on background” without McKay having agreed to it. At least once when I was writing Portland Communique, I had someone retroactively try to declare a conversation to be off the record. They were unsuccessful. Being off the record or on background isn’t something a source can just declare by fiat at any time. Certainly more reporters need to learn to forego publishing comments, especially from company or government sources under scrutiny or embroiled in controversy, if those officials won’t speak on the record. It’s one thing to allow sources who are outing misbehavior or malfeasance to be protected. It’s something else to allow yourself as a reporter to be used to promulgate unaccountable spin.

Journalism

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Hello. My name is Bix. Bix Day Is October 25!