Attribution - a lost art?
When I was taking journalism classes at Cisco Junior College in the late '70s, one thing always stood out to me - my instructor's insistence that every fact we included in a story be attributed to someone or something else. Whether we quoted a college official, a fireman, or just retrieved facts from an encyclopedia (in the days before the Internet), we were expected to attribute the source.
Now, maybe I'm just old and cantankerous, but I have noticed in the intervening years a lack of emphasis on this simple journalistic tenet. Reporters routinely say, "Some say," or, "Sources say," as if to lend some sort of credence to what they are presenting. And the old "anonymous source," while it has its place, is overused IMNSHO. Is this because reporters are afraid of revealing their sources, fearing those watering holes of newsworthy factoids will dry up? Or is it the reporters' own bias showing through, and they use the phrase "Some say" to justify the obvious presentation of a personal feeling?
I have recently been called out for not using Google to search for a term that was used in a comment to a NewsBusters article, and I thought it was justified. There should have been a reversion to my old reporter-ish self, and an attempt to ascertain whether the statement made was accurate. (As it turns out, it was.) But my cantankerous self demanded some sort of attribution or clarification of the statement, which on the surface seemed outrageous.
Is that really too much to ask?
Is it now incumbent on those who receive the statement to dig for attribution and background, instead of the one who makes the statement? Do those who make statements (or report on the news) now get a free pass because they don't have to provide their bona fides? Do we now have to man the shovel and start digging?
Perhaps the answer is yes. Perhaps modern society has desensitized us to the blatant misinformation and lies presented by the mainstream media, to the point where we believe that, if we say something (even if we have the facts to back it up) then it's true, simply because we know where the facts are. But I believe that, if we present the facts and their attribution straight up when conducting a discussion, I think it may not only open some eyes but also tend to quiet the "trolls" that we see around here from time to time. As well, if we're conducting a civilized discussion with a progressive thinker, would it not behoove us to have the facts and their locations readily at our disposal, in order to more effectively debunk their statements (if they require it)? Would it not tend to present conservative thinkers in a more favorable light, or is that just wishful thinking? At any rate, my belief (which I have strayed from occasionally) is that your quiver should be full if you're planning on using that bow. And I've always believed that facts speak for themselves, but make sure there's a chorus of attribution behind them.
I'd appreciate the feedback, whether you think I'm completely off base (that the burden of proof rests with the receiver of the statement) or whether you think I have a point (which would be wondrous indeed :-) ).