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WIRED’s ‘On Background’ Policy

Statements made to WIRED are on the record by default. Here is our guide for communications professionals.
Illustration: WIRED

Many powerful companies make a practice of obfuscating or dodging accountability when speaking to media outlets by providing information while insisting it not be attributed to anyone in particular, and sometimes not even to the company itself. For that reason, WIRED is joining the Verge, Quartz, and others in making its editorial standards clearer.

Anyone talking to WIRED reporters in any official capacity does so on the recordby default. This means that what you say or write can be quoted and attributed to you by name, not just as “a company spokesperson.” We typically allow anonymity only to sources who could face retaliation or be endangered by the information they provide, and when we do so we explain our reasons to readers. As Julia Angwin, editor in chief of the Markup, has noted, “Corporate spokespeople who are paid to provide information simply don’t meet the criteria for being granted anonymity.”

Sometimes we may agree to have a conversation on background, meaning we can use the information you provide, but will not identify you by name. Conversations are on background only when we agree to it. If you send us a statement “on background” without prior agreement, we may still treat it as on the record.

You must also get our agreement for each proposed condition of the conversation, such as requests to not quote a particular statement directly or to identify a source in a certain way. Please be clear about your exact requests every time you speak with WIRED. At our discretion we may also tell our readers why we’re providing the information in this way.

Off-the-record conversations cannot be used for publication, and they also must be agreed to (which we rarely do for corporate spokespeople).

The companies you speak for play significant roles in shaping the future; we have a responsibility to tell our readers how we got the information about your plans to shape it.