Giving Attribution

An interesting email exchange (and even a little Twitter) arose this afternoon about one of my earlier posts and the way I gave attribution. I wont name the post, or name names (or print the correspondence), but I thought I’d take the opportunity to share how I give attribution.

There’s no definite rule with attribution, but a debate about how to give attribution came up back in 2003/ 2004 back when I was editing The Blog Herald. I can’t remember all of the players but the debate was pretty wide spread at the time, and I’m pretty sure it included guys like Dave Winer and possibly Robert Scoble. The rough rules decided on then (by many) are what I’ve followed since; in part some of these may be overkill and sadly some are not followed today, but I’ve always considered this to be the fair way of doing things.

Primary source:
If the primary source for the post comes from another blog (an exclusive) a link is desirable in the first line. For example: zyz reports [link], or xyz fact according to a report at [link].

The negation to this rule: if you’ve been approached by the source directly (media release, tip, exclusive etc) or if multiple sites are reporting the facts having obtained the data the same way.

Via source:
It’s good form to include a via link in a post if you’ve obtained the story idea via another site or blog. Format: (via: [link]). This is one part of attribution that seems to be dying out. It’s unfortunate, because it was one of the features that helped build the blogosphere.

Quote/ Inline source:

Where the source isn’t primary (they are reporting it second hand, most commonly with MSM), you can quote the external site within the post as an alternative to a via link. This has become more common than a via link, but it’s really only desirable if you can make it work within the context of the post. I’ve always used with direct quoting: Format: [link] says/ reports “xyz.”

Photo credits:
These weren’t really discussed in the old days, but in an age of litigious copyright holders it’s always safer to give a photo credit when using non-default imagery (in particular photos). Format: photocredit: [link]. The other alternative is to use blog safe photos and I tend to use Wikimedia Commons.


The Honesty Catch:
There are times when blogs write about stories where other blogs have recently written about the same thing, without the second site knowing the first site wrote about it. I’ve had this happen a couple of times in the last 12 months, with people demanding attribution when I’ve sourced the idea usually from a direct email from the company/ startup or site. I don’t believe a link is due where the author honestly wasn’t aware of the earlier article, and lets face it, if you really looked hard enough you’d nearly always find something has been written about before.

However some sites sit on stories for a couple of days then re-run them without attribution. It’s hard to catch them at it, but I had a situation a couple of years back where a writer at WebProNews lifted a post I’d written and clearly took from my post. The proof was beyond clear: he used an extremely obscure word I’d used, so obscure that the word only had a couple of uses in Google and none in (for memory) prior 6-12 months. He denied it (weasels always do), but it was a cut and dry case. ParisLemon talks about another site with a similar modus operandi today.

I should probably turn this into a policy document for The Inquisitr, I’ve spoken to the writing staff about this roughly, and we might not always get it right (including me) but aiming to be a fair and decent neighbor in the blogosphere is something I believe tides this site, and anybody following these rules well. After all, it’s good karma to link out and link often, you’ll often find people will return the favor.

(image credit: EMBT)