What does ‘off the record’ really mean?

There is a lot of confusion about the term ‘off the record’. Once upon a time this may have been material that is purely for background, and not to appear in any article. Now, for most reporters, it means ‘not for attribution’–in other words you can put this information in the piece, but do not put my name anywhere near it. If you do not want what you say to appear at all, perhaps because you want to brief reporters to give them a better understanding of a sensitive issue, or to steer them away from writing something that is inaccurate, make this 100% clear beforehand, and get their agreement that this is for background only and not to appear in any form. Normally it is in reporters’ interests to stick to their word in this area, as they will soon find no one returns their calls if they get a reputation for being dangerous and untrustworthy. However, even if they go against their word and publish, they have not broken any law–so you always need to decide whether you are willing to take the risk. (Taken from the book The M-Factor by Tom Maddocks.)