Monday, August 15, 2016

Attribution provides credibility

While information that is provably true in a court of law is the gold standard in libel defense, failing to provide ample and frequent attribution diminishes an article's credibility even if every sentence is backed by legally solid evidence.

In an era of shrinking newsrooms in traditional media and the concurrent rise of citizen-generated content online, attribution is poorly understood and frequently absent or inadequate.

The Journalist Is Rarely The Expert Or Best Source

Journalists are rarely experts in the topics they write about or even the best source unless they are reporting events they have witnessed first hand. Even first hand or accounts by experts demand photos, video or confirming attribution from disinterested third parties to have inherent credibility.

A lack of attribution makes an article easy to dispute, can be legally hazardous, and offers Internet trolls an easy target.

The short excerpt below from the New York Times provides a solid exemplar of how to do this correctly.

Right-click image to enlarge.
The rest of the article continues to substantiate credibility with links to outside sources, image captures of documents and photos of locations and other relevant scenes.

Right click image to enlarge.
The ample attribution in this article is particularly significant because the object of the text, Paul Manafort, says the report is 'Silly'.

In a disagreement such as this, citing specific sources allows the reader to make fact-based decisions on the article's credibility. Because this is a political article, many readers will make up their minds in a partisan manner.

However, without the immediate attribution in the article and the context of multiple sources, this would be much easier to dismiss as a biased polemic and irresistible troll fodder.

A local example of good attribution

This article: Clayton Fire devastates Lake County town; thousands flee is also an excellent example of attribution because there is never any doubt as to where the information is coming from.
Images and video also bring home the seriousness of the situation and provide context.

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