Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lack of attribution online is a problem

When writing research papers in high school and college, we’re taught the importance of sourcing our facts. This practice tells our instructors and others where we got our information. The use of footnotes and other references helps to back up our claims.
However, many writers and editors online today seem to have forgotten the importance of attribution.


I’ve written several times about websites that run funny or shocking photos, but provide no information to back them up.
Without supporting information, these photos are pretty useless. We don’t know if the photo is real, when or where it was taken or what it purports to show.
In June, I wrote about a popular photo of a fisherman being inked in the face by a squid. I still don’t know when or where that shot was taken.
A reverse image search service called TinEye can help expose incidents where old photos are passed off as new and photos from far away are passed off as local.
But TinEye was of no use to me recently when I tried to find information about a series of photos of a leopard attacking forestry workers. (See sample above.)
I first saw the photos on Break.com, which is one of the worst offenders for lack of attribution. Break seems to think that a picture is worth a thousand words and it doesn’t need anything more than a punchy header like “Photos of Crazy Leopard Attack.”
Luckily the photos were recent and a simple Google search for “leopard attack” came up with articles about the incident. Six people were mauled by a leopard that strayed into a village in India on July 19. (See articles from BBC, CNN, MSNBC and The National.) The dramatic photos are by Diptendu Dutta with AFP.


On Monday, I wrote about how articles from Tech-media-tainment are occasionally copied and put on other websites without attribution or sourcing.
Apparently musician and former "Entertainment Tonight" co-host John Tesh has plagiarized content for his blog in a similar manner.
Another area where attribution is lacking is when mainstream media outlets don’t give credit to blogs for breaking news stories.
For example, offenders here include AllThingsD, CNet and Rolling Stone in one case and the Associated Press and others in a second case.
Sourcing in the digital age seems to becoming a lost custom.

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