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Boundary Blurring: Backstage Talk and Journalists as Political Actors

To have conversations on the background and off-the-record, or as one LP journalist put it, “to place issues under confidentiality,” is an important communicative practice at a political beat. Information received on background can be used but cannot be quoted or directly attributed to informants (but often to their role or milieu). Off-the-record information cannot be published or used for reporting. Both practices will be subsumed as backstage talk or backstage conversations in the following.

In Albany, when spokespeople talked to journalists, they routinely inserted “off-the-record” as a cue that indicated what they just said or were about to say could not be publicized. Conversations often alternated between off and on-the-record, with reporters prefacing shifts by saying: “can we go back on-the-record?” In Germany, unter zwei (under two) and unter drei (under three) were analogous codes for on background and off-the-record, respectively. In contrast to Albany, political actors in conversations did not use these terms as persistently.

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