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Gambari: “Off the Record” is a Journalist’s Worst Nightmare

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi In journalism, there are broadly 5 kinds of attributions for news sources: “on the record...

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In journalism, there are broadly 5 kinds of attributions for news sources: “on the record,” “not for attribution,” “background,” “deep background,” and “off the record.”

The best possible outcome for a journalistic conversation with sources is “on the record,” which means every information can be used, and the source of the information can be identified. The next best option is “not for attribution,” which means the journalist may use the information but should neither quote nor identify the source, usually for fear of job loss and retribution from people who’ll be negatively impacted by the revelation of the information.

Then you have “background,” which is similar to “not for attribution,” but where the reporter is given the latitude to use vague attributional identifiers such as “a close presidency source.” This is broad enough to conceal the identity of the source but close enough to give the reader a sense of where the source emanated from.

“Deep background” occurs when a confidential source tells a reporter they can’t use the information and may never even use imprecise identifiers like “a close presidency source” because the pool of people with knowledge of the information is small enough that the source can be narrowed down and identified.

The source shares the information with a reporter as “deep background” only so that the reporter may use it to pursue other leads. If there’s massive stealing going on everywhere in the Presidential Villa, for instance, and the source has intimate familiarity only with the malfeasance in Aso Rock Clinic, the source may share the information as “deep background” so that the reporter can use it as a guide to investigate other wings of the Presidential Villa.

Finally, you have “off the record,” the absolute worst fate a journalistic conversation with a source can suffer. It basically means the reporter cannot use the information at all, cannot identify the source by any means, and cannot use the information to pursue other leads.

Usually, the source shares the information with the reporter only because of the personal relationship that exists between them. Most ethical journalists choose not to betray sources who request “off-the-record” privileges. Violating the terms of the request, which we call “burning your sources,” can endanger the life of the sources at worst and dry up your source of information at best.

After my column on Ibrahim Gambari was published, someone who has privileged access to him (and who is also personally known to me) called to share more information that affirms, contextualizes, extends, and in a few cases contradicts what I wrote. He shared many pieces of information as “background,” some as “deep background,” and yet others as “off the record.”

My quandary is that some other sources independently shared his “off-the-record” information with me, but I have no way of convincing him that he isn’t the only source of the information, so I’ll let time reveal everything.

Related Articles:

Real Reason the Buhari Cabal Picked Gambari as CoS

Ibrahim Agboola Gambari: A Presidential Babysitter Who Won’t be as Powerful as Abba Kyari

1 comment

  1. Thanks you very much mentor. I hope to learn more on journalism from you.


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