The journalism establishment has not taken seriously my insistence that we regard linking as an essential practice of ethical journalism.
Poynter ignored my advice in adopting its new Guiding Principles for the Journalist last year and the Society of Professional Journalists brushed aside my advice in adopting its new Code of Ethics. The New York Times perhaps never heard or read my advice, but it certainly doesn’t require linking to digital sources of information. Update: I have done a related follow-up post on the Times’ linking policy and practice.
But, if the Times required linking, it would have avoided this embarrassing — no, humiliating — correction on Friday’s “I Was Misinformed” column by Joyce Wadler:
An earlier version of this column was published in error. That version included what purported to be an interview that Kanye West gave to a Chicago radio station in which he compared his own derrière to that of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Mr. West’s quotes were taken, without attribution, from the satirical website The Daily Currant. There is no radio station WGYN in Chicago; the interview was fictitious, and should not have been included in the column.
Of course, the actual quotes that the columnist lifted from the Currant have been removed, but here are the West “quotes” from the Currant story:
“I don’t understand why everyone is focusing on Kim’s booty.” he said. “Obviously I love her ass. That’s why I married her. But nobody has an ass like mine. I have one of the top three asses of all time.
“My booty is like Michelangelo level, you feel me? It’s like a sculpture. It’s like something that should be sitting in a museum for thousands of thousands of years. Kim? She’s got a nice ass. But it’s not at that level.
“The media hates me. That’s why they’re ignoring my butt, and putting all their attention on Kim’s. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.” …
“All I’m saying is that comparing my ass to Kim’s ass is like comparing a Ferrari to a Mercedes. It’s not like a Mercedes is a bad car. But it’s no Ferrari.”
I’m really curious which quotes she used and why they didn’t set off alarms with the columnist or Times editors. Update: See the screenshot at the end of this post to see how the Times used the quotes.
I’ve been sucked in by pranks before. I get that. I’m not saying that everyone at the Times should be so smart that they never initially mistake satire for truth.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll set aside the lifting of the quotes from the Currant without attribution, though that raises serious ethical questions. The Currant was purporting to be a secondary source, quoting from a radio interview. I agree with the practice of attributing quotes to their original sources, so the column was right to attribute them to WGYN rather than the Currant, but only after going to WGYN to check out the quotes.
If the Times required linking to sources, the columnist would have needed to go to WGYN’s website and get the link (or ideally, an audio or video clip to embed). And maybe by the time she typed WGYN into a search engine and didn’t find an actual radio station, she might take a second look at those call letters and laugh. And she might look at those quotes again and laugh a little more.
And she might click the clearly marked “about” page on the Daily Currant’s site and learn that it calls itself a “satirical” site and heave a sigh of relief that the Times’ policy on links saved her from humiliation.
You should link in digital content to your digital sources of information because that’s the best way to attribute. Even when you’re not falling for a prank, linking provides depth and context as well as authenticity. (If the Times only used a couple of those quotes, and this was a real story I cared about, I could click the link and read the rest of the quotes.)
You should link in digital content to your digital sources because the requirement that you link might prompt you to look into your sources a bit more and be more confident in them.
But, as I pointed out after the Manti Te-o hoax was exposed last year, an expectation of linking can force reporters to do a little more work and sometimes expose the lies of their sources. And, as the Times now knows, linking to sources can also protect you from the gullibility of your own staff members.
I hope when Public Editor Margaret Sullivan is finished investigating this fiasco that she recommends the Times adopt a practice of linking to digital sources. It’s not only good journalism; it prevents bad journalism.
I’ll invite Wadler to respond to this post and add her reply if she does.
And here’s a public service to journalists:
The Daily Currant is a humor site. Nothing there is true. Don’t ever cite it unless you are writing about the satire.
The Onion is a humor site. Nothing there is true. Don’t ever cite it unless you are writing about the satire.
The Daily Show is a comedy show. They actually have a lot of factual clips and information, but it’s mixed with comedy and jokes that aren’t really true. Don’t ever cite it without acknowledging that it’s comedy.
The New Yorker’s Borowitz Report is humor. It publishes things that are exaggerated or untrue. Don’t ever cite it unless you are writing about the satire.
Correction: I initially misspelled the Times columnist’s name in this post.