Update: I’ve added a 2011 Dan Gillmor piece on linking at the end of this post.
Journalists interested in attribution, plagiarism and journalism ethics should read Ellyn Angelotti‘s two-part series about attribution.
Part 1 discusses plagiarism, particularly why journalists should attribute when they use content from press releases:
When deciding whether to publish information that comes via an organization’s official release, it’s important to consider the context of the source. The release could reflect a skewed perspective — or, worse, the information may not be accurate. So by publishing information in a release verbatim, you potentially run afoul of the important ethical value of acting independently and holding those who are powerful accountable.
Additionally, disseminating information published in official releases without additional reporting may not allow for diversity of voices in the conversation, especially on social media. When people recirculate the same information, they contribute to the echo chamber of the existing conversation online, instead of adding new knowledge.
I should note that Ellyn linked (thanks, Ellyn!) in this section to my handout from the days when I collaborated with her Poynter colleagues on some ethics seminars under a grant in my American Press Institute days: You can quote me on that: advice on attribution for journalists.
In part 2 of Ellyn’s series, she addressed a variety of other attribution issues, including a helpful (and critical) discussion of patchwriting, feeble rewrites that don’t acknowledge the original source.
Since I expressed my disappointment that Poynter’s new Guiding Principles for the Journalist don’t mention linking, I should note my pleasure that Ellyn stressed linking as one of her guidelines:
Link to the original source, even if you quote someone’s work appropriately.
She also mentions the importance of linking other times:
For aggregation to be trustworthy, it should state the linked information accurately and be transparent about who said it first.
… In such a situation (aggregation), it’s often better to use the original speaker’s text, attributed with quotation marks and a link to the original publication. …
Quote and attribute. Use exact words from the source and put them in quotes. Then label the quote with who said it or wrote it, link to it and mention it on social media. …
If you are republishing someone else’s image or video, first be sure you have the original content. Then be sure you have permission to use it. When you use this content, mention who created it and then link back to the original post.
I disagree with Ellyn on this tip:
Avoid copying and pasting when republishing content. Typing out the content you are using from another source makes you more aware of how much you’re using and how you’re using it.
Copying and pasting can ensure that you quote sources accurately. Typing out the content yourself can introduce errors (such as typing now rather than not, or vice versa, or dropping a word). You can ensure accuracy and attribution by copying and pasting but putting your attribution, link and quotation marks (or block quotes) into your post before you paste (as I did with all the quotes above).
But that’s a minor quibble. I’m pleased to see Poynter elaborating on good attribution practices and stressing links as essential to ethical attribution.
For more on linking, check out my post on why linking is good business and good journalism and my contribution about linking in the ebook Telling the Truth and Nothing But. This 2011 post by Dan Gillmor also addresses the ethics of linking.