"Off the record"
I can tell you what I asked

As part of the Edelman New Media Academic Summit 2009, professors were treated to a private Newseum tour and dinner. The after dinner speaker was NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Mark Whitaker -- named to the post last July following the death of Tim Russert. Whitaker is also senior vice president.

Mark Whitaker at the Newseum

At least some of us, even the public relations professors in the audience, were more than a little shocked when it was announced that the session would be "off the record." Those of us who are former journalists remember "off the record" to be something based upon a specific agreement between a reporter and a source. But this was Washington, D.C., and Beltway rules apply in a variety of settings.

So, while I will not report Whitaker's answer to this reporter's question, the probe was about the post-June 12 relationship betweeen network news and affiliated stations -- some are paying more attention now to their Web channels than the new digital broadcast channels.

Colleagues told me this was a timely question in light of the end of analog television this week. So, how can top news executives expect sources to stay on the record when they are not prepared to have their comments meet the light of day?