Carroll: Do you trust the Aspen media?
Trust me. I’m a reporter.
So says one of my favorite T-shirts, which speaks volumes, actually, about how the public perceives me and my ilk.
In Aspen, I’ve found myself in numerous social settings where someone might tell me, “But that’s off the record.” And my stock response is, “I didn’t know we were on the record.”
But when it comes to talking to journalists, is anything really off the record? Ever?
Well, it depends.
It’s fairly common for reporters to collect information off the record, but oftentimes the person providing the details doesn’t exactly know what “off the record” means. Once I explain my rules to them, they either speak up or pipe down. Ultimately it’s their call.
Various journalists have their own set of rules about the meanings of off the record, and I have mine. The most important thing is that sources understand the guidelines before we talk.
When someone speaks to me off the record, that means the information I have been provided cannot be used in print. However, I might attempt to corroborate that information with someone else, so long as I don’t risk exposing the original source.
If a source agrees to talk to me under the condition of “not for attribution,” that means I can quote the person directly, but only on the condition of anonymity, something I’m loathe to do unless the unnamed informant faces serious consequences — such as loss of job, harm to their business or family, etc. — for being quoted.
Aspen journalists spend a lot of time quoting people in authority — from the mayor to company executives. What you read in the paper is what they tell us on the record. Some rarely go off the record, while others give us ample information on background only.
We don’t cut public officials much slack: When they’re talking to a reporter in a professional capacity — as opposed to some dark, smoky room in the basement of a tavern — they should understand that most everything being said is on the record. If they don’t, then they learn real quickly.
The best sources, however, aren’t necessarily those in power. I consider an informant to be anybody who has information that I don’t have — it can be the mailman, bartender, my neighbor or anybody else.
Whoever our sources may be, they must trust us in order to talk to us.
A Gallup poll from September showed that 44 percent of its respondents “have a great deal or fair amount of trust and confidence in the mass media.” That was up from 40 percent in 2012, the lowest rating since Gallup began the poll in 1997.
I’d be curious to know the level of Aspen readers’ trust in their local media — that includes print, radio and TV. Do you trust the local journalists? And do you believe the stories they produce?
Feel free to send me your thoughts and opinions on the subject. On or off the record, I’d appreciate the feedback.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at email@example.com.
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