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 firstname.lastname@example.org.”
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 email@example.com.
5 thoughts on “Credit Ethics: New Ethics Alarms Policy”
You set the bar very high, Jack. Once again I’ll try to follow in your footsteps.
You got burned bad so you are being extra hard on yourself. I don’t think you have done a terrrible job of credit. I have, many, many times linked through to read articles you have credited that I would not have read if you had not posted them. I stumbled upon you last year and before then had never heard of Ethics Bob or Popehat and although I am not a regular reader at either, I end up at both periodically and that is because I read here. That is the goal of most bloggers. To generate a buzz about what they are blogging about. To have people read and share. And, to my knowledge, since I have been reading here, you have never taken whole paragraphs…. paragraph after paragraph… of someone else’s writing and put your name on it. I am not saying it isn’t a good idea to be diligent, I am saying give yourself a break. If you have an urge to be beat up, go read the OWS/pot posts again and that should satisfy it. We will spend enough of our time beating you up, Jack, don’t do it to yourself. Ethics aside, I think intention is always important. And when it comes to intention on this issue, you and Mary are not even sitting in the same boat. Her boat is so far away from yours that I bet you couldn’t even see her boat with a telescope!
I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on copywrite ethics and Pinterest. It is the hottest topic in my business today and I know my opinion is not the same as some in the pin credit movement.
Not many people own up to the fact that they have taken another author’s work as their own. I’m taking a course in college about ethics in the criminal justice field, and I use your blogs as my “Spark” (don’t worry, I put all of your information on my references page). Reading through the discussion boards in class, I notice a lot of posts that are copied verbatim from another site. It is unfortunate that people cannot think alone. Good for you for stepping up and raising the bar in blogs!
I agree with Danielle… don’t be too hard on yourself. You appear quite diligent about including attribution as well as providing links so we can see the source documents. I also came upon this site by accident about 7 months ago and it opened me up to all kinds of interesting blogs. You blog list is an endless source of interesting thoughts…
So. That settled, are we going to have to begin footnoting our comments? I believe I still have my Campbell’s Thesis Guide; where is it? Who knows.
“We will spend enough of our time beating you up, Jack, don’t do it to yourself. Ethics aside, I think intention is always important. And when it comes to intention on this issue, you and Mary are not even sitting in the same boat.” Have to agree with Danielle’s post, and would like to add a reminder that no matter how hard we try, if we are thinking, rational, moral human beings we are always works in progress who can’t stop trying to be better.