In the course of reading, watching or listening to stories, you will come across these phrases. Although they may sometimes sound similar and other times, sound like gibberish, they have specific legal meanings that journalists must be careful to follow.
Regarding Requesting Comment:
Did not respond to a request for comment
Did not make anyone available for comment
Did not get back to us
Declined to respond to requests for comment.
Did not immediately respond to a request for comment*
Did not respond by airtime/deadline*
*They possibly did respond later
Regarding Official Statements from Entities or Officials:
In a prepared statement (Source decided to prepare statement for mass dissemination, or respond specifically to one point/reporter. Either way, they chose to not provide the voice of a spokesperson)
Could not comment because has not received official notice/paperwork/indictment, etc.*
Could not comment because of the ongoing investigation/lawsuit, etc.*
Could not comment because of no comment policy regarding specific individuals, records or situations*
Could not comment because the terms of the settlement are confidential*
Did not comment because they have taken steps to correct the problem and choose to move forward
Did not discuss details.
*An organization may use all of these to shield itself from the need to say anything at every point in the story.
Regarding the Credibility of Source’s Statements:
Ms. X said – directly attributable (highest credibility)
A spokesperson said – reportable but no direct attribution (somewhat credible)
An unnamed source said – reportable but no attribution (lowest credibility)
Regarding What Is and Isn’t Reportable:
On the Record – attributable and reportable
On Background – main aspects can be reported but no direct quotes
On Deep Background – information that is not reported but confirmed by other sources to enhance reporter’s understanding of story
Off the Record – not reportable or attributable*
*A reporter may request that, rather than being off the record, a source allows information to be on background or on deep background
Regarding the Assignment of Culpability (see Credibility)
X Source (court papers, etc) accuse Mr. Y of doing or saying Z
Mr. Y allegedly (he is accused by experts, bystanders, arresting officers, etc) did or said Z
We observed Mr. Y (first person observation) doing or saying Z