Monday, April 1, 2019

A to Z Challenge - A for Attribution

Theme - journalism jargons
The practice of journalists quoting individuals by name or referring to the source of a particular piece of information is called attribution.

Information that is not in the public domain, or information that is opinionated, or information that is or could be controversial is usually attributed to the person who said it or attributed to the publication from where it has been obtained.

INFORMATION SOURCES

Journalism is mostly about reportage -- the process of describing or detailing a current development related to an event, an issue, a place or a person.

So there are reports about events (sports tournaments, political conventions etc.) or about social, political, economic issues (gadget addiction, corruption allegations etc.) or about places (a city hit by an earthquake, the city hosting Olympics etc) or about people (Nobel Prize winner, the election of President etc.)

Journalists get their information from multiple sources. Some data they need are in the public domain, while some others have to be obtained from people in positions of responsibility or power. While the former is easy, the latter is not.

WHY SOURCING INFORMATION IS DIFFICULT

Getting positive information is easy: for example, the achievements of people and institutions. Everyone likes to talk about them. But, getting negative information is difficult: for example, allegations of corruption or other misdeeds. No one wants to talk about them, and no one wants to be seen talking about them. Thus getting such information is a big challenge for journalists.

IMPORTANCE OF ATTRIBUTION

Attribution brings in objectivity, transparency and credibility. For example, take a story of a train accident. A journalist wouldn’t attribute information like the time of departure of the train or to where it was headed etc since they are in the public domain and known to everyone.

However, information such as the number of people who are injured or killed or the possible causes of the accident etc is attributed to sources that are authentic and credible, like the director of the hospital where the injured are being treated, or the mayor the city etc.

It is possible that authentic and credible sources might get their facts wrong.

ANONYMOUS SOURCES

Sometimes journalists do not attribute important information to any particular person. They would just say, "... sources privy to the development said …" or "... highly placed sources said …  etc."

They do so in cases where attribution jeopardises the position of the source and thereby negates the very purpose of obtaining the information and publishing or broadcasting it. For example, specific details of classified documents that throw light on allegations of corruption against a Minister.

But this doesn’t mean that no one knows who the source is. The editors -- who do the fact check and ascertain the veracity of all the information that a reporter brings in -- are kept in the know about from where the information has been obtained.

ISSUE OF CREDIBILITY

Whether using anonymous sources for a story impacts credibility or not depends on who the journalist is and which is the publication. Journalists and publications build their credibility over many many years.

If a reputed publication carries stories quoting anonymous sources, people tend to believe them. Because they wouldn’t expect a reputed publication to carry a story that is wrong.

But, if stories with anonymous sources repeatedly turn out to be false, that could adversely impact credibility.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND ATTRIBUTION

There are many people who put out factual information on social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc. But not all such messages are properly attributed to verifiable and authentic sources.

So it's hard to believe such messages. Who knows they could be wrong. Unless you know the person who has put out that message, and you know that he/she won't put out unverified, incorrect messages.

If you find on social media startling, controversial messages that have no identifiable source, refrain from forwarding or retweeting them, until you have fact-checked them and established their veracity.

THE FAMOUS ANONYMOUS SOURCE

He was identified as merely Deep Throat by journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of Washington Post who did a series of investigative reports in the early 1970s on the break-in into the headquarters of the Democratic National Convention in Watergate and the subsequent attempt by President Richard Nixon’s administration to cover it up.

In 2005, nearly 30 years later, former FBI deputy director William Mark Felt, Sr., publicly revealed that he was Deep Throat referred to by Bernstein and Woodward in their reports. The two journalists wrote a book All the President’s Men about what came to be known as the Watergate scandal. There is also a movie of the same name. If you are interested in journalism, you must read/watch it.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)

23 comments:

  1. Thanks for the excellent post on attribution. Some journalists make up their own version of the story and attribute to "anonymous sources". Some newspapers will not even write about an accident that happened in front of their building unless the PTI (Press Trust of India) confirmed it.

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    1. Since news agencies cater to multiple media organisations, actually running to hundreds of them of various types, they have very strict standards regarding reporting news; because of which it is perceived that if a news agency has it, then it has to be correct.

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  2. Hi Pradeep - you've certainly given us a lot of information here - and yes I use/know attribution ... but hadn't given it much thought. As I don't report ... I've no need to use it ... but a great start to your A-Z - I've opted out this year ... but I'll be around - cheers Hilary

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    1. Thanks, Hilary. Though we do use attribution, professionally, journalists are expected to do it, as a part of their standard operating procedure.

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  3. Fascinating post. Attribution is something many do not consider, especially today when so many claim expertise in so much with no real credibility.Best of luck with a-z challenge.Astrology is my A-Z made fun mini animoto videos.
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    1. Thanks Egan, for dropping by. Shall check out your blog.

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  4. I have always been interested in knowing about those Anonymous sources and the sources deep in the ministry who wish to remain unknown. :)
    A very informative post!

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  5. Attribution is important. It's a big thing in education, teaching the kids to always use trusted sources and to attribute where they got their information.

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    1. Hi Liz, glad to know that children are taught the importance of attribution .

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  6. As an academic writng teacher, attribution comes up a lot in my world. Thanks for this interesting expansion on the term! I’ve found you now, so I’ll be back :)

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  7. Such an important topic, particularly at this time. It's interesting to read it from a journalist's perspective, since as an English prof. I'm always insisting that my students carefully vet their sources for credibility and then just as meticulously cite them. And even though there are few instances where I would allow a student to protect a source, there are a few cases where they might need to maintain anonymity. Also, your blog is the only other one besides mine I'm found so far in the A-to-Z challenge in the category of Politics and News, so I expect I'll be returning regularly over the course of the month. All the best!

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    1. Thanks a lot, Josna, for dropping by.
      A lot of troubles stemming out 'misinformation' and 'disinformation' on social media is primarily because of people not paying due attention to sources of their information.
      I shall check out your blog.

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  8. As an ex-market research professional, attribution and fact checking was once super-important in my world. It still is, when I'm writing nonfiction.

    Social media/citizen journalism has made a mockery of 'news,' a few days ago I saw something like 'Doon School hushes up murder of student' and I was totally shocked. On reading the main headline you'd get the impression it was the famous public school, on closer reading turned out some thing else, some shady boarding school located in the Doon valley. No sources, no fact checking, just someone reposting without a care. So irresponsible!

    A great start to your A-Z. All the best!

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    1. Hi Nilanjana, today there is lot of wrong and old messages floating around totally misleading people. Fact-checking has become all the more important now.

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  9. An elaborate explanation of 'attribution'. You write the articles with a view to providING the reader something solid, Pradeep.A very good post..

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  10. No doubt you guys find it difficult to get attribution for negative reports.And then the word alleged comes in handy ;).

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    1. Hi Indu - You got it right! "Allegedly" is such a helpful expression.

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  11. With the kind of manipulation the Level of corruption ....attribution....certainly filters to the public but I feel the guts of journalist who assimilate the information inspite of knowing its black and white ...ur article is fantastic .
    Pradeep Nair check out my blog post on WordPress
    https://lifeholistics.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/nature-the-tantalizing-force-india/

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    1. Thank you, Suruchi, for dropping by and for your comments.
      Sure, I shall check out your posts.

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