There are at least two sides to every story. That’s deeper than it appears.
Reporters are not evil, despite what was said above, and the good ones aren’t stupid. What they are is ignorant. Think about it. Every day you are sent out with the assignment to turn in a perfect little essay on a subject you know nothing or very little about. You have to learn the subject, get the background, meet the people, filter through their biases, distill their ramblings and things they think you already know, create the context, and tell the public what is happening and why in a very few words so that they feel they have real understanding of a subject they know nothing or very little about. It’s impossible, which is why most newspaper stories aren’t all that good.
The best reporters have a beat, that is, they get assigned to a subject or location so that they can learn. They get to know the subject by talking to as many people as possible. Much of the talking is pure background. What do you do here? What is the team, business, Senate like? What obstacles do you face? What are your challenges? A good reporter tries to talk to everybody. Everybody. Repeatedly. Not just for one particular story, but always. This is crucial to learning. It also makes good interpersonal sense. People like to talk about what they do. They’re proud of it, most of the time, and when they aren’t proud of it they like to gripe. When a particular story comes up on a particular issue, the reporter knows who wants to talk.
But many, if not most, entities - business, politics, government, sports, entertainment, anybody that is likely to have their conflicts reported - have strict policies on who can speak to the press openly. This makes sense in that having a jumble of conflicting messages reported, perhaps to a variety of competing reporters, would muddy the official line. But the official line is often not sufficient, not informative, or just plain lying or misdirection. Do you think you know better what should be said than what the PR people are saying? If you have half an ounce of brains, obviously you do. And you want to reinforce what you said earlier to the reporter, because the official line may contradict that, making you look like an idiot. And you want the reporter to keep talking to you, because talking is important. It’s how we validate our lives.
The real question is not why anyone would speak to the press off the record. It’s why *everyone *doesn’t speak to the press off the record. The logic of the situation dictates that only a few people are allowed to put their names on a quote, but nobody with that half ounce of brains will ever say anything that is not phony and managed for publication. True, there are an endless number of quotes proving that many people lack even a half ounce of brains. But it’s the reporter’s job to get names onto a quote so that readers can have accountability and not assume that the reporter is making it all up. It’s the quotee’s job not to have to the responsibility for telling the unvarnished facts. It’s amazing that the reporter wins this game as much as actually happens.
However, the logic is clear. Yes, you should talk to the press. Always, and at length. But always off the record. The only alternative is if you are in a position where all publicity is good publicity and having your name in the paper is a net good no matter what you say. Politicians have this luxury, but members of the executive branch do not. Team owners and coaches have this luxury, but not their assistants. CEOs have this luxury but hardly anybody lower down. You, the majority you, are invisible, unappreciated, and told to shut up even when you know your subject a thousand times better. It’s an unstable situation, and it will never change.