Content Standards: Better safe than sorry on sourcing
This is the third of a 10-part series explaining Bleacher Report’s Content Standards in depth.
We’ve discussed the black-and-white sourcing issues of breaking news, direct quotes, paraphrases and rumors, but what else needs sourcing?
It’s impossible to sum it up in one sentence, but here’s a shot: If you’re using information proprietary to a person or group in your own story—or discussing sensitive, potentially character-damaging information—you need to add proper attribution.
Some examples of what we mean are below, starting with every football and basketball fan’s favorite offseason event: the draft.
What needs to be sourced here? If you’re talking about Trent Richardson’s Terminator strength, that does not need sourcing, since chances are you’ve probably seen it on TV or YouTube. Same goes for simple things like Robert Griffin’s arm strength and poise, Anthony Davis’ freakish wingspan, etc.
However, if you’re quoting a specific report on a player and making commentary based on another person’s notes, you need sourcing.
Scott Wright of NFLDraftcountdown.com says that South Carolina DE Melvin Ingram is “maturing and developed into a respected leader.”
Unless you interviewed Ingram at the Combine, chances are you don’t know about his development as a leader on the football field. We can’t just take information from another person’s work and write it off as our own.
This world is always a bit prickly, as many reports claim to have the inside track on where a prospect is going.
When writing about a recruit who has not yet committed, you must always link and cite a source for that player’s list of potential schools. The same goes for any rumor-based recruiting chatter.
Kevin Olsen, one of the top-ranked Class of 2013 quarterbacks, has narrowed down his list of colleges to Miami, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Auburn and Alabama, according to Keith Idec of The Bergen Record.
Star and class rankings, as well as scheduled visits, need sourcing as well. Confirmed commitments do not need sourcing.
How can one adequately cover criminal behavior, scandals and other character-threatening reports with the utmost care?
This is the most important key: If a person has been accused of or charged with committing a crime—but has not admitted guilt or been convicted—we cannot report that the person is guilty.
It doesn’t matter how massive the mountain of evidence is against this person; writers need to use words like “allegedly,” “reportedly” or similar phrases that clarify the person has not yet been convicted of the crime.
Innocent until proven guilty in the court of law and journalism.
Similarly, whenever you’re discussing news that is damaging to a sports figure’s reputation, it’s imperative to get those facts correct.
If your topic is still in the breaking news stage, you should source your reports per B/R standards. However, it is good practice in online journalism to always source any reputation-damaging material, even if the news isn’t breaking. There is no downside to doing so—hyperlinks to credible sources only strengthen your own credibility and further ensure that you’ve reported pertinent facts correctly.
According to a Sports Illustrated and CBS report, college football players from 24 of the 25 teams in the 2010 SI preseason poll were charged with a crime.
When to Avoid Vague Words
Although it’s important to use words like “allegedly” and “reportedly” when distinguishing between unconfirmed reports and verifiable facts, it’s equally important to avoid using these words as a substitute for legitimate sources.
Bad: Reportedly, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving will be named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year on Tuesday.
Good: According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving will be named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year on Tuesday.
Using phrases like “reportedly,” “apparently,” “supposedly” and “reports” without citing and linking a proper source only damages your submission’s credibility, especially when you’re writing about sensitive material.
When you do so, you’re claiming that you received information from somewhere else without giving it proper attribution. It’s the lazy way to “source” your work.
Even if it does not fall into one of the previously discussed categories, a source and link are still necessary when pulling specific information or paraphrasing from someone else’s material.
Additional examples include scouting reports for draft prospects and high school recruits, general rankings and advanced statistics. In terms of the latter, if a statistic is proprietary to a sports media outlet, it is mandatory to link and credit that specific report.
According to Bill Petti of FanGraphs.com, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander throws a four-seam fastball 58 percent of the time in the ninth inning.
Continuing that conversation, advanced stats—such as salary cap information, points per possession, pitch percentages and success rate—must be credited and linked to the exact location where you found the information online. Such stats can typically be found on sites like the ones listed at the end of this post.
If you use one site exclusively for advanced statistics throughout a submission, instead of naming your source for each stat, you can add a tagline (at the end of a standard article or bottom of the final slide): “All advanced statistics via <hyperlinked website>.” You should still provide a link to each individual stat throughout the text if a link is available.
ESPN Stats and Info, any sports-reference.com site.
Hoopdata, NBA.com/stats, Synergy, 82Games
Pro Football Focus, Advanced NFL Stats, Football Outsiders
FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference, Hardball Times
To wrap up the sourcing series, always consider this notion: Not everything is public domain. If you’re using someone else’s work to buffer your own story, you need to specifically credit that person and link to their work. It’s always better to be safe than accused of plagiarism.
Paul Kasabian is Bleacher Report’s Content Moderation Coordinator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.