AP Updates Attribution Guidelines, Links Not Mentioned

    September 4, 2010
    Chris Crum

The Associated Press has revealed some new guidelines for its reporters with regards to credit and attribution. The guidelines come in the form of a letter from AP Senior Managing Editor Mike Oreskes.

Is the AP asking its reporters to do what it has frowned upon in the past? Share your thoughts.

The guidelines apply to AP reports in print, broadcast, and online news, and stress the importance of giving proper attribution to other publications that break stories.

"We should provide attribution whether the other organization is a newspaper, website, broadcaster or blog; whether or not it’s U.S. based; and whether or not it’s an AP member or subscriber," writes Oreskes. "This policy applies to all reports in all media, from short pieces, such as NewsNows and initial broadcast reports, to longer pieces aimed at print publication."

Associate Press updates guidelines Oreskes says attribution doesn’t have to be at the beginning of a story, and that sometimes it can be two or three paragraphs down.

"If some information comes from another organization and some is ours, we should credit ourselves for what’s ours and the other organization for what’s theirs," he writes, adding that if material from another source turns out to be wrong, that will be cited in corrections later. (emphasis added)

The AP is one organization that has famously expressed disdain with blogs in the past (ones that quoted AP stories and gave credit), and was cited among various other publications earlier this year by Danny Sullivan as one that failed to credit where it got its information (most likely his article, at least somewhere in the chain) about a particular story.

It is interesting however that these guidelines appear to suggest that its reporters can freely do what the AP has in the past complained about others doing – using snippets of content. Now, the guidelines don’t exactly say anything about using "snippets", but it’s either that, rewriting, or regurgitating something that’s already been discussed elsewhere (even with some additional original content added). Am I wrong? It’s a matter of fair use, and the AP’s stance on fair use in the past has basically been that there isn’t any when it comes to the AP’s content. Is it a double standard? Clearly, this is admission that the AP has participated in this same type of reporting.

It’s good to know that they’re recognizing that this is just part of how it works in this age of online news, but you still have to wonder what side of the fence they come down on with regards to their own content. I guess we’ll see if AP reporters abide by these guidelines and whether or not the AP attacks anybody for using the same methods with AP content.

The whole thing is very related to the AP’s stance on search engines and aggregators as well. These sites do, after all, provide snippets, links, and credit to the sources. The AP just reignited a deal with Google, by the way. 

While stressing the importance of attribution, Oreskes does also make a note of telling reporters not to use other sources so much that it appears they’re "free riding" on another organization’s work, and stresses matching or further development of the story. 

What is not mentioned once in the guidelines is the word "link". There is no mention of linking whatsoever. It is unclear whether linking is included it in the proper attribution described or whether they deem simple credit to be sufficient. While obviously you can’t link in print or broadcast (one reason why online content is more valuable to readers), linking has become commonly looked upon as necessary to attribution in online news, so those who deserve credit for breaking a story can in turn get traffic to that story.

The letter does say that it will continue to use "information from" lines with URLs, but that attribution should be in the body of the story as well. However, it is unclear whether or not this attribution will actually include links.

It will be interesting to see how the AP proceeds in this regard. Without links, the organization is setting itself up for a great deal of criticism.

Thoughts on the AP’s guidelines? Let’s hear them