News next: a journalism teacher's diary

September 4, 2010

Telling readers how you know what you know

Four or five years ago, while I was still editor of The Riverdale Press and before The Press had a website, I bumped into a reporter from a daily newspaper that shall remain nameless. He complained that The Press was so slow to go on-line. It made it so hard to steal its stories, he said.

When I responded that it didn’t seem to slow him down much, and mentioned several Press stories that had wound up in his paper without any mention of where they had first appeared, he responded smugly and seriously, “Hey, it’s all about serving the reader. As long as we get them the news, right?”

Slowly, times are changing, as news organizations face the fact that readers have so many sources of news, and have the ability to give search engines key words and ask them to push references to them into their mail boxes or rss feeds. Lift a fact, and you’re likely to find that readers will know it, and some may even ridicule you on-line.

What with the profusion of amateur and professional bloggers and newspaper and broadcast websites, editors are confronted with questions about just whom to credit and when. If you as a reporter get a cue from a blog but go on to turn a skeletal or incomplete or even inaccurate story into a rich, complete and meaningful report, do you credit that blogger? If so, where and how?

This fall, the Associated Press tried to answer questions like these with a new set of guidelines for credit and attribution. They’re worth reading and thinking about.

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