8 questions to ask about sources

By · Friday, May 2nd, 2014

If you’re publishing your own work — whether as a freelancer or an employee of a media company — here are some important questions to ask yourself. You can use them as a checklist to ensure you give proper credit and include the best sources. Appropriate attribution and sourcing will set you apart as someone who knows vs. someone who shares.

  1. Who is telling the news? Is it clear either in the lead paragraph or within the first few paragraphs?
  2. Is there too little attribution? Does attribution appear in one paragraph but not in the next few paragraphs that follow? Paragraph by paragraph, is it clear where information is coming from and who said it?
  3. Is there too much attribution? Is information attributed to the same person in each sentence of the same paragraph? Can that be streamlined by attributing the information once in the paragraph and making clear that the attribution applies to the entire paragraph?
  4. Is attribution in the proper place? With a change in speaker after a quote, is there attribution at the start of the next sentence so a new speaker is properly introduced?
  5. Are the right sources in the story? Are they commenting on the right thing?
  6. Are the sources believable? Are they close enough to the story that they know what they’re talking about? Are they so close that they seem biased?
  7. Are there enough sources? Are there various points of view? Is anyone missing?
  8. Are sources fully and clearly identified? Are experts’ qualifications clear? Are there any anonymous sources in the story? Are the anonymous sources necessary? What other sources could take their place?

Test your ability to spot the best sources and to know when they are believable. Take any story in the news and apply this list of questions to it. As a news consumer, what is your reaction to the attribution and sourcing in the story? How well do the sources inform you?

Assessing the work of others is good practice for getting it right yourself.

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