Doug Thompson illustraion
Most likely, when you hear about a breaking story in your area, the print or broadcast organization you happen to be reading or watching at the time is the one that claims credit. But that's not necessarily the same one that actually did the digging or first told a critical story about the Richmond community.
No outlet can possibly be everywhere at once or break every story. But the perception that they are and do is at the crux of each one's relevance to their readers or viewers. If they weren't the first to inform you of important news, why wouldn't you turn your attention elsewhere?
That competitive factor can lead to some blurring of attribution when it comes to one news organization giving credit to another for its good journalism.
"It varies depending on the story and the situation," says WRIC-TV8 News Director Lisa Melton. "Often in the morning, we may reference a headline and the story in the [Richmond Times-Dispatch], obviously giving the T-D credit. There are times when it's not a huge story with legal implications and we may go with ‘published reports out today' or something similar."
The degree of specificity can often depend on how quickly a competing organization can verify the information in the originating piece. On occasion, a prompt phone call to a knowledgeable source inquiring if all information in the breaking story was correct can qualify for verification in a deadline pinch. If the story was based on a government document freely available to the public, a reporter who gets her hands on that same piece of paper before the current news cycle is over can chime in as though she had the information all along.
"In some cases, and often on TV, we are credited for the stories they read," says Times-Dispatch Executive Editor Glenn Proctor. "When we are credited with breaking news, writing stories or covering important issues by other media, that's a good thing. When someone ‘borrows' our stories, it positions us as the source for news and information."
This is precisely why many outlets — whether the story broke in the daily paper or on TV — may avoid offering a tip of the hat if they can avoid it.
Dwindling resources often are an issue. WRVA 1140AM announced several years ago that its news-gathering efforts would be pared back due to costs. Jimmy Barrett, WRVA program director and morning news anchor, says the station does cite other outlets when referencing stories they reported first.
"Policy is to give credit where credit is due," he says.
A major mitigating factor in attribution is the cooperative agreements that most news organizations have with the Associated Press (AP). As part of their subscribers' agreement, they consent to allow the AP to redistribute their work to other members for their use, with attribution given only to the AP, if at all.
"Our policy is to attribute the source of material exclusive to the generating organization," says WWBT TV-12 News Director Nancy Kent. However, she adds, "If something is posted through [the AP], we do not attribute the material to the generating entity."
The AP itself has started getting tough with those who use its articles without permission on the Internet, even taking legal action if necessary against Web sites, blogs and news portals.
On July 13, the AP settled an intellectual-property lawsuit against AHN Media and other defendants, Editor and Publisher reported. The AP claimed that AHN told its staff and contractors to use news content from AP stories upon their publication online. The lawsuit also claimed that AHN told its staff to rewrite those AP reports and use the rewritten text without AP's name and copyright information. The AP announced that AHN will pay an unspecified sum to settle the claim for past unauthorized use of its content.