Associated Press senior managing editor Michael Oreskes has announced "a new set of guidelines for credit and attribution to the AP staff." The new guidelines are a reminder to AP reporters on the importance of "attributing to other organizations information that we haven't independently reported," and "giving credit to another organization that broke a story first, even when we match it - or advance it - through our own reporting," he said in a press release.
According to Oreskes, the web has made the need for reliability absolutely essential. It is therefore "more important than ever that we be consistent and transparent in our handling of information that originated elsewhere than our own reporting," he wrote.
"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.
This policy applies to all reports in all media, from short pieces, such as NewsNows and initial broadcast reports, to longer pieces aimed at print publication.
It applies once we have decided that we need to pick up the material - and for those decisions, the usual judgments still apply," the guidelines stated.
Concerning giving credit, the guidelines require that "If organization X breaks a story and we then match it through our own original reporting, we should say something like this: "The secret meeting in Paris was initially reported by X." In instances where AP investigation has gone deeper than that of the original source, credit to that source is still necessary. If there were multiple sources giving matching stories, credit should go to the first consulted source. Oreskes points out that providing "information from" along with URL lines at the end of the story cannot substitute proper attribution and crediting within an article.
In a related development, Phil Corbett the New York Times standards editor has issued a memo on Gawker regarding use of anonymous sources. The first rule in such cases he wrote, is that readers must be told why the source has to remain anonymous. "Let's stop using such rote formulas as 'because he/she was not authorized to speak' or 'because of the sensitivity of the issue." Readers have the right to reasons that are enlightening, he insisted. Credibility of the source must also be verified, and at least one editor should be aware of the identity of anonymous sources. Finally, Corbett pleads with his reporters to avoid overuse of anonymous sources. "While anonymous sources are sometimes crucial to our journalism, every time we rely on anonymity, we put some strain on our credibility with readers," he wrote.
Recent incidences have prompted the need for such tighter and clearer guidelines. As Lawrence Meyer explained in July, the Internet enables news to be transmitted instantaneously, allowing erroneous information a wider audience than previously possible. Thus Oreskes reminds his writers that "If the material from the other source turns out to be wrong, we'll cite them in any corrective we do later." Also, The Washington Post this week suspended a reporter due to a fabricated tweet, emphasizing that a newspaper's credibility is invaluable. This attitude is backed up by a survey carried out on Spot.Us community members which found that a majority of these members believe transparency and fact verification are the cornerstone of good journalism.