Articles about "Credibility"


covering an event with a video camera

What breaking news reveals about your newsroom culture

Here’s what a lifetime in journalism has taught me: Breaking news reveals the true character of a newsroom’s culture and quality.

Spot news success happens in cultures with specific systems, skills, values, mindsets – and leadership.

In the healthiest cultures, when news breaks, here’s what staffers can count on:

  • We have a plan. We don’t have to scramble to figure out how to respond each time a big story breaks. Everyone on our team has an understanding of the key roles that need to be filled – both in the field and at the mother ship. We automatically call in and report for duty. We adapt the basic plan by situation and story, and we’re never caught flat-footed.
  • It doesn’t matter if our boss is on vacation. Deputies and team members are capable of making tough decisions and deploying resources because our leader routinely shares information and power. (No one has to say, “What would the boss do?” We know what WE should do.) We know who’s in charge and we know we’re all responsible.
  • Our hardware and software won’t be our weak link. Our organization invests in the necessary gear and the preventive maintenance to keep it ready for heavy duty use at any time. We have backup provisions for power, technology and tools.
  • Our communication works. Okay, it never works perfectly, but we have phone trees, updated contact lists for email, social media and phone access, bridge lines for conference calls, protocols for briefings, and computer files for shared information and resources as the story continues. We minimize ignorance, confusion and duplication.
  • We’re cross-trained and talent-deep. We’re not in a hole because a key player or craftsperson isn’t available. Even our bench is brilliant — and can step in with confidence and competence. We can cover all the bases.
  • We have an investigative and analytical mindset. We assume that everyone will cover the “what.” We’ll get that — and automatically dig into the “why?,” “what the hell?,” “what’s the bigger picture?,” and “what next?” That’s not the exclusive role of people with “investigative” in their titles; it’s expected of all of us on the team.
  • We play on all possible platforms. We understand that people expect the news to come to them, wherever they are, however they prefer to consume it. We do our best to deliver — with quality.
  • The whole building knows the drill. When breaking news demands all hands on deck, people from other departments (from sales to sports to marketing to maintenance) take the default position: “How can I help?” We gratefully tap their talent and plug them into our plans.
  • We know what we stand for. We know that breaking news is fraught with land mines. We know how to navigate them. Because we talk about values in our everyday coverage, the stress of spot news won’t make us stupid.
  • We take care of each other. Our leaders focus on the needs of the next shift, the next day, the next week. They don’t let staffers run on empty, and don’t hesitate to encourage (even order, if need be) exhausted or traumatized teammates to stand down or accept help.
  • We never forget we’re covering human beings, not statistics; featuring their stories, not our selfies; chasing truth, not thrills. We’re documenting history.

And when the story becomes history, we think about how to do things better next time.

 

 

 

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Beware sloppiness when reporting on surveys

There is an old saying that figures don’t lie but liars figure. That’s a good thing to keep in mind when examining how some companies market the results of surveys.

OK, perhaps lying is too strong a term, but I’ve seen too many press releases that promote the results of a survey but don’t tell the entire story, and surveys whose methodology — including the questions asked and how the sample was derived — simply doesn’t pass muster. Unfortunately, all too often journalists and bloggers pick up on these press releases without critically examining the methodology or digging further to make sure that the actual data confirms the headlines.

In many cases, when a company or research organization announces the results of a survey, the press release provides a brief summary of the survey but not much detail beyond that. Before I write about a survey, I ask to see the underlying report. It should include a summary of the methodology, including how the sample was derived, the actual questions asked, and how they were answered. Sometimes, after examining that report, it’s clear to me that the methodology was flawed or the summary isn’t fully supported by the underlying data. Read more

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News Corp Split

PoynterVision: Why News Corp acquired Storyful

Raju Narisetti, senior vice president and deputy head of strategy at News Corp, explains the reasons behind News Corp’s $25 million acquisition of Storyful in December. Many newsrooms have adopted Storyful to help them verify social media and video content. Watch the video to hear how Narisetti, who came to Poynter for the Future of News Audiences conference Jan. 26-27, sees Storyful’s verification tools fit into News Corp’s larger strategy.


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China Citizens Movement Trial

Covering China: for foreign and domestic press, self-censorship’s the threat

A plainclothes policeman, center, tries to block a foreign journalist filming while police detain the supporters of Xu Zhiyong near the No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing Wednesday. Xu, a legal scholar and founder of the New Citizens movement, is on trial facing a charge organzing a crowd to disrupt public order. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

It’s not easy being a journalist in China these days.

Chinese reporters are facing new government restrictions, including forced training in Marxism and a new written “ideology” exam. Some, pushing the investigative envelope, have been detained, demoted and fired. Bloggers have been arrested under a new law that forbids rumor-mongering.

Meanwhile, foreign journalists have had visa renewals held up by the government, with the threat of expulsion. The standoff grew so contentious that Vice President Joe Biden had to make a personal appeal to China’s president before last-minute visas were issued earlier this month.

The troubles have prompted soul-searching among journalists about their cumulative effect. The key question for many is whether government intimidation will lead to self-censorship. Read more

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PoynterVision: @webjournalist on how he builds his personal brand

How has Robert Hernandez created a successful persona on Twitter as @webjournalist with over 11,500 followers? He says he decided to be just who he is.

Hernandez, digital journalism professor at USC Annenberg, adjunct faculty at Poynter and music fan, told me that he talks about the many projects he has started, including #wjchat for journalists to discuss media topics via Twitter or beta testing Google Glass, and he tells jokes and quotes song lyrics.

His parting advice: “Be genuine when you engage with others,” he wrote in a Twitter direct message to me. “Be genuine in who you follow and learn from.”


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Related: Tips for Storytellers: Your personal brand | How journalists can build their own powerful brands | As brands start building digital newsrooms, what do they need to succeed? Read more

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This July 20, 2012 file photo shows police outside of a Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colo. after a shooting during the showing of a movie. Police and fire officials failed to tell each other when and where rescuers were needed following the Aurora theater shootings, according to reports obtained by the Denver Post. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

Learning from prize-winning journalism: how to cover a breaking news story

In Poynter’s e-book, “Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism,” we highlight and examine 10 award-winning works from 2013 through interviews with their creators.

These works are inspiring. They’re also instructive. Starting with the “secrets” shared with us by their creators, we’ve extracted some great lessons about how to learn to do better journalism, and paired them with questions to ask in your own newsroom.

In this first installment, we explore lessons learned from The Denver Post’s coverage of the Aurora theater shootings, which earned the newsroom recognition for its work, winning the ASNE distinguished writing award for deadline news reporting, the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News and The Scripps Howard Award for Breaking News. The Post also received positive feedback from the community, which pleased Post’s News Director Kevin Dale even more.

In “Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism,” Dale examines the factors that contributed to the Post’s multiplatform coverage of a news story that broke shortly after 1 a.m., when only one person — the night digital producer — was left in the newsroom.

In Dale’s interview with Poynter affiliate faculty member Chip Scanlan, he shared some helpful lessons for covering breaking news:

Aim for accuracy

In breaking news stories, information develops rapidly, and credible sources are even more critical to understanding the true story. The Post didn’t publish a tweet or post until someone in the newsroom confirmed it.

“We knew we would be the source that people in Denver and around the world would turn to for accurate information,” Dale said. The lesson: keep your standards high even in a news frenzy when you see other organizations reporting information that hasn’t been verified.

Ask: what standards do you have for vetting information? How do you ensure the information you distribute is credible?

Use social media to listen and report

The Post dedicated a team to monitoring social media in the wake of the shooting. But it also used social media in three ways: to get information to the public, build stories and find sources. The newsroom posted entries to social media and compiled reporter and photographer tweets of verified facts. Reporters used Twitter and Facebook to find people who were in the theater. That let the Post obtain material, including raw phone video taken by people running from the theater after the shooting.

Ask: how could you more effectively use social media to listen for news and story ideas? How could you find (and vet) sources online (e.g. Facebook’s Open Graph search tool)?

Seek to understand developing narrative, craft strategy to deliver it

The Post’s coverage reflected a remarkable marriage of old and new media.

When the news broke, Dale knew it would be more than 24 hours before anything would be printed in the paper. But he immediately sent reporters and photographers to the scene, organized planning sessions and prioritized story assignments to publish digitally.

Most breaking news situations have several moving parts. Faced with this, the Post decided to prioritize creating a profile of alleged shooter James Holmes. Several reporters collaborated to create a complex and thorough story that took advantage of the strengths of both new and old media. They posted verified facts as online snippets throughout the day, then crafted a long-form narrative for print that put those details into better context.

Ask: what’s the most important content from a breaking news situation? How can you put your best resources to the most effective use? How do you decide on the best publishing vehicle?

Have a process, practice it often before breaking news happens

Faced with the question of whether or not to name the shooter, Dale and his team used previous experiences and discussions to guide their decision-making process. That process, coupled with social media and digital training, has helped the newsroom refine a “full-court strategy” that it put into motion for many major stories throughout the year.

“Plans can be written and put in a drawer and forgotten,” Dale warned. “I’m a fan of practicing solid breaking news, multiplatform journalism every single day. If that is the daily mission, the staff can respond to any story.”

Ask: what processes do you have in place for ethical decision-making on deadline and assembling resources to cover breaking news stories on multiple platforms?

Related: A victim’s mother asks journalists not to name suspect | Denver Post covers yet another shooting, ‘and the whole newsroom gets it’ | The story behind a compelling investigation into how Aurora shooter got his ammo

Resources and Training: Resources for Covering Gun Violence | Telling Smarter Stories about Gun Issues | Ethics and Credibility of Breaking News Online Read more

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Newtown’s media blackout forces journalists to do their jobs

The one-year anniversary of a tragic event is a significant moment. But for journalists, such moments too often become opportunities for emotional exploitation rather than real journalism.

The citizens of Newtown, Conn., and the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims have drawn a hard boundary around their homes. No media, they’ve said to the outside world. Don’t talk to the media, they’ve said to the 28,000 people who live in the community.

In doing so, they’ve deprived newsrooms of the easy visuals and rote storytelling that have sometimes substituted for meaningful journalism. And that’s good: It forces journalists to do the hard work they should be doing on the first anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six adults.

In a way, it’s a gift to the audience everywhere that Newtown is spurning public events. Without requisite sights and sounds such as flickering candles, tolling bells, and names read aloud, journalists have to do something other than tap into the grief and rehash the horror of that day.

But it would be wrong to leave the anniversary itself unnoticed. Anniversaries, especially the one-year mark of a tragic event, are sometimes the best opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on the world. This is why counselors tell grieving people not to make major decisions for the first year after a loved one dies. A year later, the world looks much different — maybe not better, but certainly not as fuzzy as it looked then.

Here’s what the best anniversary stories will look like:

  • Many will offer updates on the national debates we are having about guns and mental health. Sure, these are obvious subjects. But done well, they can advance the conversation by describing the likely paths forward. And the best stories are those that bring new data or studies into the narrative. USA Today’s Behind the Bloodshed interactive graphic is a particularly good example, while this New York Times update on gun laws and Frontline’s look at the gun lobby are both sobering.
  • Any perspective from the families will come through newsrooms that have established strong ties with the families of the slain children and teachers. This blog post by Emilie Parker’s mother is a strong example, and this AP story is particularly well done.
  • Outside essayists will offer their thoughts in a variety of op-eds and columns.
  • The journalists who do go to Newtown will have a plan. They will document the town and its people from a distance, instead of fighting with each other to interview everyone and anyone. And I’m OK with that. I don’t want to live in a world where journalists are afraid to cover important stories in ways they think serve the story. I want some journalists to be in Newtown, just not hundreds of them.

How to cover the Newtown anniversary depends on your audience. Local news providers need to focus on local stories, turning to their own communities. The wider your audience, the tougher the task of finding a relevant story.

Finally, here are a few things to avoid:

  • Gratuitous use of images from that day. This may be tempting given the absence of fresh visuals, but using the image of the children in a line rushing from the school or the crying woman on the phone will likely cue the audience to move on.
  • Political grandstanding. It’s possible that politicians and pundits will try to use the anniversary of these deaths to make a political point, and that cable news, talk radio, or other media with lots of time but few resources will allow them to do so. But let’s hope not.
  • Oversimplification. It’s tempting for journalists who are used to making sense of complicated things to try and make sense of this. But some things defy such efforts, however well-intentioned. And trying to change that causes us to fall back on clichés about good and evil that will never be universally embraced.

We live in a media world of excess. With self-discipline, restraint and a sense of service to our audience — rather than to our ratings or web metrics — journalists should be able to provide meaningful stories a year after Newtown. And possibly such efforts can set the tone for future tragedies.

* * *

“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracy. You can find more information about the book here. Read more

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Attribution in a digital age is getting murkier. (Depositphotos)

Getting digital attribution right, Part 2

This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 is here.

Traditional journalism standards have typically governed attribution, and the general rule when using the work of others verbatim is to put quotation marks around the republished content and clearly indicate the source.

But this isn’t the only method of attribution used in the digital world — publishers are trying different tactics, and audience expectations may be changing as well. During a recent Poynter and MediaShift symposium on journalism ethics in the digital age, Tom Rosenstiel, former Project for Excellence in Journalism director and current executive director of the American Press Institute, said that the norms and ethics of journalism “have come from the streets,” adding that “audience has been the determiner of what works.”

Aggregation and curation, two techniques that often overlap, have become popular forms of publishing — and places where problems with attribution often arise. Aggregators gather information related to a topic that’s been published elsewhere into a single article, telling a story with material from different sources and, typically, linking to them. Similarly, curators guide readers through a story by offering links to content created by others, with context and commentary added along the way. These publishing forms appeal to social-media communities that like to share and are encouraged to do so. But the fast-paced, quick-hit rhythms of aggregation potentially challenge truth in several ways.

Poynter confronted the challenge of attribution issues and aggregation with a blog on Poynter.org by Jim Romenesko, in which he commonly aggregated, linked to, paraphrased and quoted from the work of others. After a dispute over attribution issues that highlighted Poynter’s need for clear and consistent practices, Romenesko resigned in 2011 and started a new blog.

Roy Peter Clark, vice-president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, has written frequently about attribution and raised the question of whether print standards are outdated when applied to digital publishers.

“There are enduring standards, to be sure, and we should be influenced by them,” Clark wrote in 2011. “But the cultural mores governing intellectual property have been in constant flux for centuries and are currently under special strain.”

These attribution issues raise ethical concerns of truth and transparency related to both the content itself and the person creating it. And such situations are increasingly common: consider the practice of “patchwriting.”

In a 2008 study, Rebecca Moore Howard, professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University, defined patchwriting as “restating a phrase, clause, or one or more sentences while staying close to the language or syntax of the source.”

Patchwriting isn’t plagiarism, but it relies too much on what the original source says, hindering the patchwriter’s ability to create new ideas. Kelly McBride, a Poynter senior faculty member for ethics, has called patchwriting “more common” than plagiarism and “just as dishonest.”

To avoid patchwriting’s perils, McBride suggests writers starting an assignment ask themselves this question: “What can we provide to our audience that’s different than what’s already been published?” That answer can then become a foundation for more-original work.

Practical Guidance

A common problem is that writers lack guidance about how to attribute information found elsewhere, especially online. Organizations should review their values and policies related to attribution, and create policies if they don’t exist.

The examples below represent possible approaches organizations can take in coaching their writers and editors about clear attribution of information that they would like to repurpose.

Example: The Associated Press on user-generated content

Last year, Poynter’s Craig Silverman talked with Fergus Bell, a social-media and UGC editor for the AP, about the verification process he developed for the organization.

Bell told Silverman that he and his colleagues strive to find the original source and speak to the person who created the information they want to use. Bell’s new verification process for user-generated content builds on best practices and the existing AP verification process. It also depends on consistency and following the process even in urgent breaking-news situations.

The first stage is to “confirm and verify the original source.”

Steps in this process include:
1. Find the earliest example.
2. Check the source’s social history.
3. Ask the source questions

The next stage is to “verify content and context.”

The process involves these steps:
4. Secure permission to use.
5. Compare content with AP reporting.
6. Check content with regional experts.

The AP publishes disclaimers to accompany UGC content designed to explain AP’s process and manage its audience’s expectations. Bell gave this sample that might be used with a video script:

++USER GENERATED CONTENT: UGC cannot be absolutely verified. This video has been authenticated based on the following validation checks:
++Video and audio translated and content checked by regional experts against known locations and events
++Video is consistent with independent AP reporting
++Video cleared for use by all AP clients by content creator

Example: Embed practices in standards and explain them to the audience.

Poynter’s attribution policy for its website takes the approach of explaining its organizational standards and the practices based on those standards.

Standard: We maintain high standards of reporting, writing, and editing in order to produce work that is as error-free as possible.

Practice: We create and edit our journalism in ways aimed at anticipating problem areas, reducing mistakes, and correcting them as quickly and transparently as we can. We maintain an online corrections page that makes it easy for the audience to report errors. We provide timely response, clear corrections, and prominent acknowledgement that a mistake was made and addressed. We credit the authors and creators of the various forms of journalism we publish. We apply appropriate scrutiny to work by staff and contributing writers to prevent plagiarism, intentional or otherwise. We do not intentionally mislead with words or images. We do not deliberately deceive as we gather information.

Tips for creating a content-verification process

Establishing a consistent process for vetting and verifying content that others create can provide a framework for handling such material during high-pressure situations or when colleagues are unsure of the content’s origin. Once such a process is created, communicate it throughout the organization.

The following questions will help when creating criteria for a vetting and verification process:

How do we determine what makes a source trustworthy? First, when finding a story idea, it’s important to confirm that news or idea with a trustworthy source.

How do we determine who said that trustworthy information first? It can be difficult to determine who said what first. To give the most value to truth, a writer should give credit to the original source, not someone who merely republished that content. People seek sources they can trust for credible news. For aggregation to be trustworthy, it should state the linked information accurately and be transparent about who said it first.

What information should be attributed, and how do we best communicate where this information came from with our audience? In an effort to add their own voice, aggregators often change a few words around in repurposing something and linking to it. But such efforts don’t always clearly indicate to the audience which words the original publisher created and which words the aggregator created. In such a situation, it’s often better to use the original speaker’s text, attributed with quotation marks and a link to the original publication.

The value of human contact

While digital tools let us overcome distance and time to connect with people in new ways, when it comes to vetting and verifying information, the more human contact you have with a source, the better. An in-person interview is better than a video-conference interview because it gives you a better chance to notice someone’s body language and non-verbal cues. And, in turn, video conferencing is preferable to a phone conversation because you can see the person in addition to simply hearing their voice. When it comes to vetting and verification, the more information you can gather, the more confident you will be.

Here are guidelines that will help vet and verify information:

1. When possible, acquire the information firsthand.

2. If that’s not possible, say how you acquired the information — during a phone interview, via an email, at a press conference, in a prepared statement, in a direct message on Twitter, in a Facebook post, and so forth.

3. When you find information on social media, use it as a lead but never as the final step in the reporting process. You want to be able to confirm that the person who posted the information is who they say they are, and you also want to confirm that the information they published is true. To do this you first need to identify the original source, which may require a little digging and contacting those who have republished the information. Your ultimate goal will be to find the first known publication of the content and contact that person to confirm that the information is true and that they were the original creator.

4. Contact the original source. Use information shared on a social-media profile to try to find a way to contact a person privately — via email, a Twitter direct message, or some other method. If they don’t share much about themselves on their profile, try a Google search of their name or social-media alias.

5. Quote information appropriately. Determine how you will attribute information and stick with that convention. The important thing is to make it clear to your audience what content you created and what content was created by others — and who those others are.

6. Link to the original source, even if you quote someone’s work appropriately

7. Mention the original source on social media. This will encourage that person to share your story with their network. It may also help you build a new relationship, since the person may appreciate the exposure to your own network.

Attribution tips

  • 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.
  • 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.

Attribution on social media

Social media sites have their own conventions for crediting others.

Twitter
If you are republishing someone’s content verbatim, put a “RT” (“retweet”) in front of your tweet. If you are republishing essentially the same message but changing a few words, preface your tweet with MT (“modified tweet”).

Facebook
When you see a Facebook post you’d like to post to your own page, the “share” button lets you do so easily. When sharing content on Facebook, only the content itself transfers, not the caption your friend wrote, so you’ll have to write your own. Facebook also lets you tag or mention Facebook friends and pages within a post. To tag a friend or a page, start typing their name and a drop-down list that includes them should appear. If it doesn’t show up, type an @ before the name of the person or page. Click on the name you want to tag and it will automatically create a link to that person or page.

Additional resources:
How to find an original source of an image on Pinterest
Flickr teams with Pinterest, releases share button for proper photo attribution

Ellyn Angelotti is Poynter’s faculty member for digital trends and social media. This is the fourth in a series of case studies underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation.

Related: Getting digital attribution right, Part 1 | 6 ways journalists can use press releases | Seven ways to make your work easy to fact check | How to handle plagiarism | Why journalism should rehabilitate, not excommunicate, fabulists and plagiarists Read more

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Computer keyboard keys used CTRL, C and V for copy and paste. (Depositphotos)

Getting digital attribution right, Part 1

Control+C, Control+V.

These two simple keystrokes — copy, paste — have created a culture that makes it easy for online publishers to share others’ content and use it in their own work. Much of this sharing and reuse is done appropriately, but sometimes the way a work is credited may not meet traditional standards for attribution.

Most people agree on a definition of plagiarism: It’s a verbatim republication of work that was originally published elsewhere, without clear attribution to the original publication. But ask how to apply that definition to practices and things get murky. Some say any use of more than seven words should be attributed. Others say attribution becomes necessary when more than two sentences are used. Applying that definition to the online publishing world introduces even more gray areas.

The Poynter Institute has written about attribution-related topics frequently in recent years. Those efforts have led to lively discussions, in part because there are new ways to give credit when using another’s work besides the traditional and widely accepted quotation marks. You can offset another’s work in a blockquote, link to the original source, mention someone on a social-media post, or use tools that share the original post on a social network. Which of these methods are sufficient in properly crediting the original content? That’s where views vary and conversations can turn heated.

The PR question

Here’s another wrinkle for publishers trying to determine what content requires attribution: Corporate-communicators and public-relations practitioners widely distribute releases and official statements that come complete with facts and quotes. Those releases are often written by people who used to work for news organizations. And the PR practitioners want their work republished.

Some newsrooms struggling with fewer resources and more pressure to publish frequently use this PR material verbatim, and without attribution. That fits the definition of plagiarism, but raises a key question: Is it plagiarism if the original source consents to the republication and finds attribution unnecessary?

In July 2011, the Kansas City Star fired columnist Steve Penn for using content from press releases in his columns without attribution, declaring that he was fired for “using material that wasn’t his and representing it as his own.”

Penn later sued the Star’s owner, McClatchy Newspapers, for defamation of character. In his complaint, he claimed the Star’s accusations of plagiarism were false and resulted in “damage to his reputation and a loss of business standing … including lost job opportunities.”

Penn said that such attribution hadn’t been required in his previous experience and training at the Star, and therefore he would occasionally use such releases unattributed, with the knowledge of his editors.

In the complaint, Penn also said: “The widespread practice in journalism is to treat such press releases as having been voluntarily released by their authors into the flow of news with the intention that the release will be reprinted or published, and preferably with no or minimal editing.”

Penn’s statements highlight an issue online publishers are often unclear about: Now that organizations have the ability to publish content directly, without the press as a middleman, how should journalists use and attribute information that comes from an official source via press release, a prepared statement, an official social-media account or some other widely distributed avenue?

Attributing a quote or fact, even when it comes from an official source, gives the audience more context about that information and how it was acquired by the writer. “It tells readers how we know what we know,” said Steve Buttry, Digital First Media’s digital transformation editor, in his blog post “You can quote me on that: Advice on attribution for journalists.”

Gerard Corbett, 2012 chair and CEO for the Public Relations Society of America, said in a blog post that attribution is “recommended” when a quote is reused or facts or figures are cited, but added that in general, “PRSA views the issuance of a news release as giving implicit consent to re-use and publish the news release’s content.”

In that post, Corbett noted that most public-relations professionals like to see their press releases published in print: “After all, those words found their way into the paper through a meticulous and often grueling process of drafting, editing, re-drafting, reviewing and approving, all intended to present a company’s or client’s news in the proper light. What better way to insure a story’s accuracy than to pull content verbatim from the press release?”

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.

Practical guidance

Using a release as a resource instead of as a source can be a great first step in your reporting process. It shouldn’t be the only step, however.

Social-media posts, like official statements, can be a great starting point for reporters. But the information people find via either of these channels should be considered the equivalent of information that comes across a police scanner. You never know what else you might get by interviewing a source on your own instead of by relying on a prepared statement.

What should be included in an editorial policy for how content creators should best use information or quotes from an official source?

An organization should update its existing policies, or if necessary, create a policy for how to use information created by others, including official sources. These policies should identify potential trouble areas and provide clarity on how to avoid practices that could possibly be interpreted as plagiarism.

Example: Arizona State on plagiarism

Arizona State provides guidance to help its students avoid plagiarism, and its informative page could be a useful guide for organizations looking to develop editorial polices regarding such issues.

Below is a summary of ASU’s suggested standards and practices:

1. Explain why these standards are important. ASU begins its policy by articulating the journalistic standards of honesty and accuracy that drive the expectations it has for its students.

2. Identify trouble spots and how to handle them. ASU sets clear standards for what is expected when students copy and paste information from other sources. It recommends that students use quotes when using exact language, paraphrasing the content into original words when possible, and always attributing the entire statement to the original source.

3. Explain when attribution is not required:

  • When information is “commonly known to a majority of the people.”
  • When including background information for stories that is “undisputed factually and is available from a wide variety of reliable sources.”
  • When witnessing something firsthand.

4. Clarify how official statements or releases should be used in reporting, if at all. When using press releases, the ASU guidelines make clear that “rules of attribution apply.”

The guidelines go on to suggest that when you use content from a press release and don’t attribute it, you are misleading the audience into thinking you spoke to a source directly, so full disclosure is necessary. The same goes for content acquired via email or from an organization’s web site.

While the list above isn’t comprehensive, it highlights some of the topics of greatest concern.

When “teachable moments” come up within an organization, especially about an issue not included already in the editorial guidelines, those issues should be discussed and editors should consider revising those guidelines. As with any policy or procedure, custom-tailor the guidelines to the needs of the organization and preserve flexibility by treating them as a work in progress.

Conclusion

The journalist’s role is to seek truth and report it. Social networks and blogging have introduced an abundance of new publishers that create more news and information to share than ever before. And the nature of social media is to share. On Twitter, it’s easier to retweet someone else’s content than it is to create your own. On Facebook, one click lets you share content created by a friend created with your entire network. Because it’s so easy to share, information travels faster than ever before — and the audience is in charge.

With so much new information being published and shared so quickly, the role of journalists is expanding. They’re no longer just storytellers, but also sense-makers who guide audiences to relevant and verifiable information by sharing it with them.

Given this culture shift, online publishers that lack a traditional journalism background will challenge the rules and standards created by journalists for journalists. And that makes it even more important to find a solution to attribution questions. And that solution must recognize the nature and habits of the community without compromising what is ultimately important: truth.

Tomorrow: Getting digital attribution right, Part 2

Ellyn Angelotti is Poynter’s faculty member for digital trends and social media. This case study, the third in an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation.

Related: 6 ways journalists can use press releases | Seven ways to make your work easy to fact check | How to handle plagiarism | Why journalism should rehabilitate, not excommunicate, fabulists and plagiarists Read more

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Tips for Storytellers: Your personal brand

If someone “googles” you, what will they find? A well-crafted, professional profile? The finest samples of your work or structured settlement cash now? A summary of your ideas about the future of journalism? Over time, you leave quite a digital trail. Here are bits of advice for refining your personal brand—part of a series of graphics with tips for storytellers. Next Friday: Tips for data visualization.

Poynter Quinn-fo-graphic: Creating Your Personal Brand
Poynter Quinn-fo-graphic: Creating Your Personal Brand

For a PDF: Poynter Quinn-fo-graphic: Creating Your Personal Brand

Related: How to make photos better | How to polish your writing | How to make the most of your tweets | How to get your video right  | Tips for an online portfolio Read more

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