We media folk are a persistent bunch.
Whether we’re listening in at a city meeting, talking with students at a local school or recording details at the scene of a crime, newsgathering is priority No. 1.
We’re commonly seen across the community – a recorder and camera in hand – navigating through crowds and asking pressing questions to get the inside scoop on the most important stories of the day.
Words like “eager,” “hurried,” “restless” or “deadline-driven” are often used to paint our personalities, and there’s no doubt I live up to those stereotypes, sometimes more than I care to admit.
In fact, I joke that journalists would make the best and worst superheroes: We’d be the first ones on scene, but we’d stop to ask what happened rather than jump to rescue those in need.
I can’t help but wonder of the dozens of people I “interrogate” on a weekly basis – city officials, business owners, school staff, public safety officials or just the average Joe – how many actually look forward to the conversation or run to the hills in an attempt to escape.
Most of my beloved sources know my routine by now: Snap a few pictures, hit record, ask a question or two and break away to publish the big story. I’m “that guy.” And I hold true to that title unapologetically.
It goes without saying that as “that guy,” my job – my responsibility as a journalist to report the news accurately and fairly – is to go “on the record.” Heck, most of my day is spent “on the record.” It’s a core belief among us reporters, a foundational truth, an innate characteristic, ingrained in each of us, unceasing in our coverage.
Going “on the record” is what we as the press do, and we do it proudly.
There is, however, one important thing I’m continuing to discern: when and where to go “off the record” (insert audible gasps from my media counterparts here).
Yes, I’ve broached a taboo subject. The phrase “off the record” is a dirty word in the media world. Again, it goes against everything we stand for. The drive, the hunt, to capture the perfect quote, the compelling statement, the inspirational speech, is an integral part of who we are.
So what do I mean when I say go “off the record”? For me, it’s removing the reporter hat, shutting off the recorder and taking a few moments to make small talk with someone with no strings attached.
Time is money in the dog-eat-dog world of journalism, and much of mine is spent typing away behind a screen against deadline – and rightfully so. But there’s no doubt that devoting an extra minute or two to shoot the breeze with a source before or after an interview goes a long way.
Sure, you’ll find us newsies at a number of events smiling, shaking hands and conversing with the crowd with no equipment in hand, but I still feel the art of small talk is an overlooked practice that could always be perfected.
What’s more, as one who mainly identifies as an introvert, it’s easy for me to hide behind a camera or a pen and paper when there’s a specific timetable or agenda; there’s a familiar sense of solace when donning that press pass.
Thankfully venturing into the treacherous territory of undocumented conversation has become easier for me over the years – largely in part to the affable residents of Owasso who have helped me hone those communication skills.
Going “off the record” is a foreign concept to me and many of my media brethren. It’s challenging, it’s uncomfortable, and most of all, it’s uncertain. But I’d also be unwise not to.
So, what do you want to talk about? I’m all ears.