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Monday, December 03, 2007

Should reporters credit bloggers?

An interesting column (and corresponding discussion) is taking place on Poynter about whether or not (and when) mainstream journalists should credit bloggers for material that informs a story on which they are working.

Here's the background on a story brewing in the Twin Cities as reported on Poynter by Maryn McKenna, a freelancer who has caught my attention with two great posts in a sometimes so-so e-media column:

On Nov. 29 and 30, Twin Cities blogger Ed Kohler posted (here and here) on an emerging story involving Minneapolis-based Target Corp.: Students doing viral marketing for Target on Facebook were asked to conceal their affiliation with the company. Kohler's posts hat-tipped and expanded on posts by University of Georgia senior Rosie Siman, who revealed the concealment on Oct. 8. (In an Oct. 9 update, Siman posted that she'd learned the administrator for the Target Rounders program claims the original request was a "miscommunication.")

A few minutes before midnight on Nov. 30 the Star-Tribune published its version of the story online. They also bannered it across the front page of the Dec. 1 paper. The story quoted Siman, Target and Target's marketing arm. It did not mention Kohler's blog; even though referred to Target being "outed in online blogs."

The question is: Should the Strib have named Kohler as a source in the story?

Reporters often gather a lot of material that never gets used in an actual story but often informs the final story in the way of background. There are even interviews with sources that never see print but that help the reporter to give a story more context for the reader.

However, in this case, it appears that the Strib learned of the story from Kohler, that he did deeper digging on this story when he realized the traditional media had missed it. In that case, he and his blog should have been at least referenced as the original source of the story. Give it the mainstream equivalent of a hat tip.

There's a squabble over whether or not Kohler was the original source of the story or whether he just furthered it along. Either way, I think reporters can't just grab material from bloggers without at least indicating where they found the information. At the very least, talk to the blogger via comments or offline, explain what you're working on and ask to chat further because it's possible and probably likely that the blogger has even more info and sources that he or she has not yet shared. It appears the Strib reporter did that, but then still neglected to attribute Kohler as a source.

Traditional reporters cannot be obtuse about the nature of such relationships. The net result of transparency and cooperative reporting is even stronger coverage of everything from politics to business, education to city hall.

The Minnesota Monitor (a cool site similar to what I'd like to see happen in Cleveland) picks up the argument here.

What do you think?

Should journalists credit bloggers? If so, under what circumstances?

Do you think reporters and bloggers should nurture source relationships?

Have you any experience doing so either as a journalist or a blogger?

Have you any experience working with a reporter or a blogger to improve coverage of certain issues?


Ed Kohler said...

Bloggers seem to have a higher level of courtesy for fellow writers. It doesn't hurt a story to mention where you heard about it. In fact, it gives your readers options for digging deeper if they found the story particularly interesting.

The StarTribune website has been around since at least 1996 and they still haven't figured out how to link to sources.

Becky said...

Yes, they should. They can give credit in print and a hat tip online.

Now ... I need to go follow all your links and read up on this. Interesting post.

Ed Kohler said...

I'd love to see tinyurls used in print publications as footnotes to articles. Giving me links to further reading would be very valuable.

Becky said...

You know ... not giving credit when it's due is sorta like transcribing a press release and slapping a byline on it. The thing about the Internet is that it's so much easier to see when that happens (as opposed to "the olden days").

Becky said...

Tinyurls. In print. Hee hee. Have you seen what happens to e-mail addresses?

Ed Kohler said...

I like to think that tinyurls are short enough to not screw up.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting here. Nice job on the original reporting and bringing this important issue to light.

Footnotes to reading--now there's an interesting idea. It's like linking before linking existed.

As to the Strib not linking to sources: Well, as the newsroom argument goes, if they do that, people will leave their site. (gasp!)

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks, as always, for stopping by and I'm so glad you're able to comment now. :)

I agree that it's disingenuous not to give credit where credit is due.

Ed Kohler said...

Wendy, good point about people leaving their site. If we've learned anything from Google, it's that you should never link out to other sites???

Wendy Hoke said...

Yeah, it's absurd. I've been to many journalism conferences where exactly this fear is expressed by staffers.

Of course the independent journalists in the room do their level best to refrain from uncontrollable laughter.

Jill said...

So glad you flagged this, Wendy. As you know, this kind of issue has come up often in the Ohio sphere but when Wide Open started, it became even more of an issue with some concrete examples. I'm going to post on it as well.

Great comments.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks, Jill. If you post examples, I'll post a link here.

Jill said...

The biggest example came when Tom Blumer blogged about a prospective Imam for Cleveland and the PD hadn't done as thorough a check or coverage as Tom thought they should have. There seemed to be some agreement about that, the PD did more and then did refer to Tom but I think as "blogger" and then when the Imam resigned, similarly, they referred to him as having been outed by a "blogger" - not Tom, not the Wide Open blogger, not the blogger on that PD blog thing etc.

Check in with Tom at Bizzy Blog - I'm sure he's got posts up about it. We were all noticing how many different ways the papers tried to get around naming him. :)

Wendy Hoke said...

Yikes! I'll check with him.