A quick reminder about how off the record works

Earlier this year, I wrote about off the record, on the record, and on background in a different post. One of the main points of that earlier article centers on the fact that off the record is only an option when both you and the journalist agrees.

Note:You can’t just say something is off the record and leave it at that. The journalist has to agree. Otherwise, everything discussed is in fact on the record and subject to use.

In the example below, Tesla’s CEO and co-founder (Elon Musk) answered an email from a reporter at BuzzFeed, and based on the tone of the email, he assumed incorrectly that the response was off the record. It wasn’t, because the journalist never agreed. The result was a BuzzFeed story centered on the email exchange.

Email Exchange With A Reporter

As you can see, in this example we have a failed assumption of how off the record works. You better believe Tesla has a great PR team, but there is little they can do when the CEO answers questions from the media directly without checking.

If he did check with the internal communications team at Tesla, it isn’t clear why they would allow him to answer like this. Granted, he is the CEO and co-founder (or at least he was at the time), so maybe that had a lot to do with it. Either way, this is a PR professional’s nightmare.