Reporter goofed in handling of Nick Saban situation

I've been asked by a reader of the blog to weigh in with my thoughts on the situation surrounding Alabama football coach Nick Saban. At question is when it's OK or acceptable for a reporter to take off-the-record information and make it public.

Essentially, Saban -- after clearly stating that what he was about to say was strictly off the record -- made some derogatory remarks about a group of people in Louisiana to some reporters, one of whom recorded the conversation. The recording subsequently was leaked by the reporter (who has since apologized).

Here's my take:

When a source asks for something to be off the record, you pretty much have to honor it, unless there is some VERY VERY compelling journalistic need to go public with it -- public safety, corruption, etc.

As a journalist, all you have is your credibility; it's why those SF Chronicle reporters are fighting their subpoena in the BALCO case and are willing to go to jail rather than give up a source to whom they promised anonymity. Once you lose your credibility, you're finished as a journalist.

Is it that compelling that Nick Saban made a racist comment? I don't know the answer. In some instances, it might be. If he was still the coach at LSU, it's probably more noteworthy. Was it worth it to that reporter that no one is ever going to talk to him off the record again? In this case, I doubt it.

That said, Saban is an idiot for not making sure all the recorders were turned off. I know coaches who ALWAYS make sure the recorders are off and notebooks put away before they say anything off the record. If you want something off the record, you should make sure there's no actual record ...

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