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  • Writer's pictureViva Sarah Press

My work, your byline? (or, why some journalists refuse to give proper attribution)

It happened again. Someone liked an article I wrote so much so that it was profusely paraphrased without proper attribution.

Content etiquette and ethical journalism call for crediting the original source of an article.

“Often a journalist is actually relying on the work of another journalist. If you are quoting or paraphrasing another journalist’s work, attribute by name and link. Ethical journalism is more than just avoiding plagiarism. In digital journalism, attribution is incomplete without a link,” wrote the late Steve Buttry, a journalist and professor, about why journalists should always include a hyperlink to original sources.

Name and link. So easy to do. And yet, there are still too many cases of someone else putting their byline on work that is not theirs.

The Society of Professional Journalists has a point-by-point list of what makes up ethical journalism.

The main takeaways: “Never plagiarize. Always attribute.”

So, while in my case the rewritten article with another’s byline wasn’t plagiarism, it was obviously reworded without proper attribution. It was lazy journalism if you could even call it journalism.

(A day after requesting proper attribution for my article from the media organization that had published a rephrased version of it, a fellow journalist saw his work abundantly reworded with no link back to the original by the same organization.)

According to ONA ethics, journalists are meant to “follow a range of practices in attributing to other news organizations: linking directly to the original story, attributing by name to the journalist and organization, attributing only what they can’t ‘re-report.’”

ONA (Online News Association) calls for attribution by name to the journalist and organization. I never got this. The link inserted retroactively, after I flagged unethical standards, was for the publisher of my original article. I was not credited with having written the article. A half win, at best.

The funny thing is that the article I wrote was so easy for another reporter to write. The subject of the article lives in the same time zone, country, vicinity as the media organization that preferred to publish paraphrased copy.

Stolen credit is a curse all journalists face.

Our job is all about sharing content. But there is a difference between sharing content with the public and having someone else take credit for the presentation of ideas that we put together.

One would think that news organizations and other journalists, especially, would know how important it is to attribute and link to the original journalist’s story. I regularly attribute with a hyperlink when I can’t do the reporting myself or quote from a great published article.

The roles of a journalist, among many others, are to collect information, investigate, and present it to the public. It is about writing original text and telling a story.

Or, at least, that’s my definition of what I do.

Sadly, this latest incident shows that others believe it is fair game to take someone else’s work and half-attribute, if at all.

Giving credit where credit is due is the right thing to do.

It is disappointing that in 2020, a lack of integrity is still plaguing the journalism field.

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