Four Pillars: On the record conversations

Have you ever been in a position where you had to say something was “off the record” to a journalist, and then worried about whether it would stay that way? And does it matter anyway?

Apocryphal story. Kenny Dalglish was at a press conference announcing the return of Ian Rush from Juventus to Liverpool. And one of the reporters asked him how come he managed to keep both Rush moves a secret, his going to Juventus and his returning to Liverpool. Kenny’s taciturn reply was pure Kenny. “Simple. I didn’t tell anyone.” You know, even if he didn’t say it, he should have.

My father was a financial journalist. And his father before him. He told me many stories, and the odd maxim. A few examples:

  • Nothing mechanical needs forcing.
  • If the only way to make contract is to assume a singleton spade queen on the left, then play for it.
  • We shall contrive.
  • There’s no such thing as off the record.

There’s no such thing as off the record.

And I used to ask him why this was the case.

His reply? If you need to say it, then you don’t have the trust and the relationship to request it, much less enforce it.

Many years later, as I became more and more involved in conversations with startups and VCs and the innovator community, I  saw a variant of this. The dreaded NDA. If you had to ask for one to be signed, you probably didn’t need to go any further. The request said it all.

And now, as we learn more about the impact of social software and modern web tools and IP telephony on mainstream media, I begin to wonder what happens next.

On the one hand, we have all the closed information drivers: privacy, secrecy, confidentiality, DRM, IPR. Roundly opposed by all the positive open information drivers: trust, transparency, collaboration; and some of the less positive:  “disclosure” and whistleblowers and leaks
Again, I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it, but I think something about old media required this schizophrenic approach to information. We have information. And we have secret information, known to a favoured few.

And something about new media, the democratisation of conversation, tends to make this less possible.

I feel we are proceeding to a world where all conversations are on the record. Because they happened. The record cannot lie.

Record everything. Archive everything. Search everything. Retrieve everything.

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