Thoughts on Attribution: the Montana Media and Blogs


I’ve always been surprised by how little coverage and credit Montana bloggers get from the mainstream media in the state (to the extent that I am almost convinced Lee Enterprises has a policy against mentioning them), but the topic has come back to mind in the past couple of days because of a new attribution policy developed by the Associated Press and the coverage of the Tea Party Homophobia Hoedown © since last week.

The Missoulian Editor Blog (see what I did there?) last week posted an “excellent policy” about crediting other news agencies in reporting. It’s an interesting look at the difficulties of giving proper credit in the lightning fast world of modern media, but errs heavily on the side of acknowledging the work of other news agencies. Perhaps the most important part of the new policy? Full attribution, no matter the original source:

The policy addresses two kinds of situations:

? Attributing to other organizations information that we haven’t independently reported.

? Giving credit to another organization that broke a story first, even when we match it — or advance it — through our own reporting.

Attributing facts we haven’t gathered or confirmed on our own:

We should provide attribution whether the other organization is a newspaper, website, broadcaster or blog; whether or not it’s U.S. based; and whether or not it’s an AP member or subscriber.

The past week has demonstrated the importance of this policy. While a lot of the original reporting about the despicable nature of the Montana Tea Party was from John Adams at the Great Falls Tribune, blogs did a lot of the initial discovery of Facebook postings and other messages. Other than a brief throwaway line in the Independent Record today about “many online blogs,” the reporting work done by blogs breaking these stories has received little mention.

It’s unfortunate. Failing to attribute the original sources is not only suspect ethically, it undermines credibility of reporting. It matters if a story is broken by a partisan blog—and stories should reflect that.

This isn’t personal. I don’t break a lot of news here, as this is primarily a commentary site, though a couple of instances of failed attribution still sting just a little bit. Other sites, though, both left and right, have broken, researched, and reported Montana stories well before the media got to them, and the mainstream media owes the same courtesy to blogs that blogs extend to them.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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