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'On Background'

Tech journalism’s ‘on background’ scourge

Brian Merchant, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review:

According to the Associated Press, an on background arrangement with a reporter means that “information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position.”


This is a toxic arrangement. The tactic shields tech companies from accountability. It allows giants like Amazon and Tesla an opportunity to transmit their preferred message, free of risk, in the voice of a given publication. It leaves no trace of policy that might later be criticized—that could form part of the public record to be scrutinized by regulators, lawyers, or investors. If the company later reverses course or modifies its position, the egg is on the reporter’s face, not the company’s.

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