On Attribution

Attribution is a controversial topic in blogging and reporting, with the tensions between mainstream news sources and independent “news blogs” having been well-documented. But even within those groups there are clearly rivalries, oversights, and intentional editorial and design decisions that lead to a lack of credit where credit is due.

I’m repeatedly surprised (although I probably shouldn’t be at this point) by the spiteful attitudes some outlets take toward their competitors, attitudes that most obviously manifest themselves in going out of the way to avoid crediting another site.

Some slights are specific and very intentional, often driven by either professional or personal rivalries. Other issues of attribution are less personal but can carry broader impacts.

Our policy at MacRumors is to try to be as upfront as possible about attribution, almost always mentioning the original source of a unique article by name and linking directly to it at the first opportunity. Some sites work very hard to bury that information for some reason, preferring to hide the original source with a generic single-word link buried somewhere in the final paragraph of the post (and in some cases much less obvious than the site’s in-text advertising) or in a tiny, often overlooked “source” link at the end of the article. Many times these mentions won’t even include the name of the original source.

It’s one thing to have your work picked up by another site and published with only a tiny attribution link; at least the link is there. But those obscured links then lead to other sites picking up the story and citing the re-report instead of the original one…which is exactly what the source obscurers want.

Yes, it’s all part of the game sites engage in in trying to drive traffic to their own sites, a game that can also apparently be “won” by keeping traffic from going to other sites even when the reader would be best served with a clear link to the original source.

MacRumors certainly isn’t perfect, but we try hard to acknowledge when another outlet digs up a unique story. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to get through the chain of re-reports to find the original, and in some cases it results in dual attribution: one for an original source that may have gone undiscovered by us and a second for the re-report that brought it to our attention.

The politics and competitiveness of the Apple news and rumor world and broader tech universe certainly aren’t unique, but any failure to attribute to the best of our abilities is a disservice to our readers. Nobody gets all the scoops, and sometimes most of the time it’s fine to give a tip of the hat to the “other guy”.

Show some respect, and you just might get some in return. And even if you don’t, perhaps you’ll sleep better at night (or during the day or in small catnaps scattered around the clock). Given our line of work, good sleep is frequently a precious commodity.