Sourcing: A primer on Bleacher Report’s standards for attribution
Sourcing is an important facet of writing for Bleacher Report. With the vast amount of information available in the digital media landscape, it’s vital that we attribute our sources properly to give credit where it’s due.
The Attribution Guidelines are a handy reference point, but here we’ll look at those guidelines and expand on some areas where there is occasionally confusion.
All news items that have broken in the 24 hours before your article publishes should be attributed with a link and citation to a credible, original source.
This includes national stories that could be considered common knowledge, such as LeBron James signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the news may be widely circulated on the web, it’s still proper journalistic practice to acknowledge the person or outlet who broke the story.
Some examples of properly sourced breaking news:
LeBron James is rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers, announcing the decision in an essay on SI.com told to Lee Jenkins.
At left wing-back, Luke Shaw begins his first United season with a hamstring injury and is expected to be out a month, as reported by BBC Sport.
Once a team or league has officially confirmed the news, a link to the official announcement is sufficient attribution rather than naming a media outlet. For example:
Bayern Munich have announced the signing of Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso from Real Madrid.
All rumors must be sourced to a credible, original outlet. For advice on what to look for in a “credible” source, see this B/R Blog post.
Typically, a rumor will be accompanied by a word like “reportedly,” but in general it is a story that’s unconfirmed by official sources.
Personal speculation does not need to be sourced, but all items framed as rumors or speculation from elsewhere must be attributed to credible outlets. See examples of correct sourcing for rumors below:
According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, executives around the league believe Jim Harbaugh is wearing down the San Francisco locker room.
Tottenham are interested in a move for Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck, with James Orr of The Independent reporting that the north London club are the favourites to sign the England international.
According to Alan Nixon of The Daily Mirror, Fulham are interested in a loan deal for Valencia star Sergio Canales.
Quotes and Paraphrases
All quotes and paraphrases not obtained firsthand should be sourced to credible, original outlets. Proprietary quotes and paraphrases are attributed by linking to and citing that source.
All quotations that are not proprietary to one source (such as those from press conferences where several outlets are reporting the same quotes) should be properly hyperlinked to a source confirming the quotes, while specifying the context in which the quotes were made (“in a press conference …” “told reporters …” etc.).
Writers may also clearly indicate when and where the quotes were reported live (such as a TV broadcast), in which case no link is required.
Example (Indirect, Non-Proprietary Quotes)
Incorrect: After the game, Richard Sherman said, “I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug.”
Correct (Writer garners indirect, non-proprietary quotes from the Internet): In a press conference, Richard Sherman said, “I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug.”
Correct (Writer garners indirect, non-proprietary quotes from live TV/radio/etc.): In a postgame press conference televised on ESPN, Richard Sherman said, “I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug.”
Distinguishing Between Primary and Secondary Sources
When attributing information, it’s important to ensure you’re giving credit to the correct source(s). Not only do we need clear attribution to the original source reporting the story, but we also need to credit any secondary sources from which you’ve obtained the information.
For example, this Mark Polishuk article on MLB Trade Rumors collects various reports from around the web, including a piece from ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Here’s proper attribution if you’re relying on Polishuk’s article:
Since Stark is the original source but we obtained the information through MLB Trade Rumors, we should credit both sources, with a hat tip (h/t) to the secondary source. It’s inaccurate to say MLB Trade Rumors is solely responsible for the rumor.
Be sure to read a source thoroughly to verify if the story is based on someone else’s reporting.
Sourcing Information That Isn’t Available Online
If something was reported in a print publication that’s not available online, we do not need a link: A citation and a clear indication that the source was a publication is enough. For example, we would ask you to make it clear when using quotes from a magazine.
Information from books also does not need to be linked. One common issue we see is writers linking to Amazon pages for books as a way of sourcing, but it is actually against our guidelines on promotional content to link to a page where a book that you have not written can be purchased.
Similarly, if writers want to use a report they saw on a television broadcast, they don’t need to link to it, but it must be made clear that it came from a broadcast:
Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Total Access that Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson has asked to be traded.
Attributing Firsthand Information
While most B/R writers are prohibited from breaking their own news, we do allow all writers to acquire and use firsthand quotes in their articles. However, because a lot of the information we use comes from external sources, we ask that writers make it clear when what they are reporting is firsthand.
There are a few ways this can be done:
- A tagline placed at the end of your article or slideshow saying “All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.”
- An indication in the text (“she told me,” “he said in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report”).
- A dateline at the start of your article.
In that same vein, we ask that firsthand observations from events such as NFL training camps and college football practices are clearly attributed as being your own if that’s the case. Otherwise, we would need them to be sourced with a link and citation as they are considered proprietary to those reporting them.
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Calum Rogers is a Content Moderator at Bleacher Report.