What will heretofore be referred to as “The Mary Frances Prevost Affair” has its silver lining. Watching another blogger incorporate the main body of my blog post into her own by-lined essay without credit or attribution has caused me to do a lot of thinking about the inadequacy of credit and attribution in the blogosphere generally, with a relatively few exceptions. Most of these are blogs written by academics who hold to the standards of their profession rather than the much looser practices of the internet. It also caused me to wake up to the inadequacy of my own attribution practices on Ethics Alarms. I have never taken an entire post from another source and represented it as my own, but I have frequently taken a factual account of a story from another website that itself was essentially republishing, for example, an AP story, put the facts in my own words, sometimes with a stray phrase remaining, and not credited either source. I have often derived information in a post from multiple news sources but only linked to the one that I felt related the event the most thoroughly and clearly. Another writer’s work has sometimes sparked an idea for a post that was substantially different, and I have not credited the source of that spark.
All of this is common practice in blogging, but it is still wrong, and sloppiness is always a slippery slope. In the wake of “The Mary Frances Prevost Affair,” a colleague alerted me that I had included one complete sentence and part of another in an Ethics Alarms post that were identical to the post of another writer on the same subject. I didn’t even recall using the source, but upon going over my notes, I found that the earlier post had supplied me with the bulk of the facts I relied upon, though not the analysis of them. . I immediately contacted the author to apologize, and he was gracious and understanding. Nonetheless, this should never happen, especially on an ethics blog.
Therefore, as of today, Ethics Alarms will maintain a strict policy of crediting all sources that go into the inspiration, research and writing of the posts here. Links in the body of the text will be either be for informational purposes only, such as when I make a gratuitous cultural reference that nobody under the age of 50 is likely to recognize, or to back up direct quotes. At the end of each post, there will be credits and/or links listed, when appropriate, in some or all of the following categories:
Spark: The article, essay or news story that inspired the Ethics Alarms post.
Pointer: The individual, blogger, author or website that alerted me to a story or issue.
Angle: When my post takes a similar position or involves a similar framing of the issues as another online source.
Facts: The sources of the facts covered in the story.
Sources: Other sources that were used in the writing of the Ethics Alarms article.
Graphics: The source of the graphic used in the article. It is well-established that using online graphic material to illustrate a particular point in a blog post comes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws, but I haven’t been crediting the sources of the graphics, and that’s wrong.
Finally, I will include this language at the very end of this listing in each post:
“Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at email@example.com.”
I would like to apologize to my readers for not taking this action sooner. The job of an ethics blog should be to lead, not follow, and I allowed myself to adopt the current, predominant, inadequate ethical standards of the blogging community because 1) it was easier 2) “everybody does it” and 3) I never really focused on it…or to put it another way, my ethics alarms didn’t go off.
Or to put it another way, I’m an idiot sometimes.
I also want to apologize to anyone whose work I didn’t properly credit in my previous 2, 619 posts. I wish I had the time and the data to go back and correct them all, but I don’t. I assure you it wasn’t intentional; it was just lazy, stupid and thoughtless. The alarms are ringing now. Maybe someone else will hear them too.
Spark: Mary Frances Prevost
Sources: “A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators” (NY. Times)
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.