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News Reporting and Writing Attribution and Quotation Gerry Doyle. First, a word about sources. Remember, readers expect reporting to be impartia l: you are there to gather information that is as close to unbiased as you can get it. Do your friends have opinions about you?

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first a word about sources
First, a word about sources

Remember, readers expect reporting to be impartial: you are there to gather information that is as close to unbiased as you can get it.

Do your friends have opinions about you?

Do you have opinions about your friends?

slide3
Of course, the answer is yes. Relationships affect accuracy. And your readers will question your accuracy if you quote your friends—so don’t do it.

(Exception: if your friend happens to be the only knowledgeable source about a big story, you don’t really have a choice. But disclose the relationship.)

the persistence of trying
The Persistence of Trying

Sometimes sources are busy. Sometimes they have just had a bad day and don’t want to talk.

But there are only two solutions to this problem—and neither of them is “give up.”

1) Keep trying

2) Find another source

attribution and quotation
Attribution and Quotation

Reporters are not usually experts in the topics they write about. They rely on experts to be their sources of information.

The process of identifying sources of information for readers and viewers is known as attribution.

attribution
Attribution

Attribute information to people, documents or publications; not to places or institutions.

  • Incorrect: The immigration department said the exemption was denied.
  • Correct: An immigration department spokesman said the exemption was denied.
levels of attribution
Levels of attribution
  • On the record. (full use)
  • On background. (do not use source’s name)
  • On deep background. (do not use source’s name, occupation or place of work)
  • Off the record. (do not use any information; so what is the point?)
  • Be sure of terms, then stick to them. Anonymous sources are dangerous.
statements requiring attribution
Statements Requiring Attribution

When the statement is controversial.

  • Unattributed: Mainland authorities have sabotaged democratic development in Hong Kong.
  • Attributed: Human rights advocate Chew Wing said Mainland have sabotaged democratic development in Hong Kong.
statements requiring attribution1
Statements Requiring Attribution

When the statement is an opinion.

  • Unattributed: The Immigration Department employs low-skilled people who cannot find jobs elsewhere.
  • Attributed: Government critic Henry Tsui says the Immigration Department employs low-skilled people who cannot find jobs elsewhere.
statements requiring attribution2
Statements Requiring Attribution

When the statement is a direct or indirect quote.

  • Unattributed: The media is guilty of a “double standard” in its coverage of university students.
  • Attributed: The media is guilty of a “double standard” in its coverage of university students, the Secretary for Security said.
statements requiring attribution3
Statements Requiring Attribution

When the statement assigns blame or suggests a point that some may dispute.

  • Unattributed: Acting in self defense, the Hong Kong police officer shot the teenager three times in the head.
  • Attributed: The police officer said he was acting in self defense when he shot the teenager three times in the head.
attributive words
Attributive Words

Attributive words are accurate and impartial.

  • It is hard to beat “said.”

Some writers try with “replied,” “declared,” “added,” “explained,” “stated,” “pointed out” and others. But each has a specific meaning.

  • The use of the word must reflect the source’s meaning.
attributive words1
Attributive Words

“Explained” is a good example of an attributive word that is often misused.

“Explained” means to have made something more comprehensible. Unless the source was discussing a complicated or obscure topic, “explained” is the wrong word to use.

explaining explained
Explaining “explained”

Yes: He explained that people new to Hong Kong may suffer physical illness because their body is unaccustomed to coping with pollutants called “respirable suspended particulates.”

No: The pollution experts will speak at noon in the Ming Wah complex, he explained.

attributive words2
Attributive Words
  • Avoid “hoped,” “felt” and “believed.” You only know what your sources told you.
  • Sources do not “smile,” “grin” or “laugh words.

Yes: “Nice to meet you, Wing,” Chew said, smiling.

No: “Nice to meet you, Wing,” Chew smiled.

attributive words3
Attributive Words
  • Avoid attributive words such as “claimed” or “admitted” unless their meaning applies.
  • “Claimed” casts doubt on someone’s words.
  • “Admitted” implies the speaker is confessing to something.
attributive words4
Attributive Words

What do the following have in common?

Made it clear that; further stated that.

Went on to say that; let it be known that.

Also pointed out that; emphasized the fact that.

Stated in the report that; said he feels that.

Brought out the idea that.

attributive words5
Attributive Words

All can replaced by either “said” or “added.”

attribution1
Attribution
  • Attribution can come at the beginning of the sentence, the end or at a natural break within the sentence.
  • In the example below, the break is not natural:
  • “I shall,” Wing said, “return.”

So this is better:

  • “I shall return,” Wing said.
attribution2
Attribution

Here is an example of where attribution in the middle of a sentence works, because the break is natural and helps emphasize a point by the speaker – in this case, an ironic one.

“Some legislators are thoughtful and hard-working,” the chief executive said, “and some are actually cooperative.”

attribution3
Attribution

If a quote is long, attribution is best at the beginning, or at first natural break.

“Even if I don’t believe it’s time for direct elections,” Tsang said, “make no mistake I am proud of what I’ve done. I have kept us on the ‘two systems, one country’ model. I have brought prosperity. I am just and fair.”

attribution4
Attribution

Attribution should be at start of a sentence when the speakers in consecutive sentences change. What is wrong with this?

The editor no longer accepts ads for horse-race betting. He said, “Betting only hurts people.”

“Editors have no right to pass judgment on this; they might as well stop taking movie ads, too,” a horse-racing fan said.

attribution5
Attribution

When people begin reading or hearing the second paragraph, they think the editor is still speaking, but he isn’t. The speaker has changed. It’s easy to fix:

A horse-racing fan said editors have no right to pass judgment on the issue. “They might as well stop taking movie ads, too,” the fan said.

quotation
Quotation
  • Direct quotations are a source’s exact words and go entirely in quotation marks.
  • Indirect quotations are when reporters use their own words to paraphrase the source; these do not have quotation marks.
  • Partial quotations are when reporters use only key words or phrases from a remark.
quotation1
Quotation

Direct: “I support democracy, but it will be dangerous if we go too fast,” said Chew Wing.

Indirect: Wing said that while he supports democracy, it is dangerous to move toward it too fast.

Partial: Wing said he supports democracy, but “it will be dangerous if we go too fast.”

quotations when to use
Quotations: When to Use
  • Use quotations to let sources talk directly to people.
  • Use quotations when you cannot improve on speaker’s exact words.
  • Use quotations to tie a controversial opinion to a source.
  • Use quotations as evidence of a statement, or to reveal the speaker’s character.
quotations when to use1
Quotations: When to Use
  • Use indirect quotations when speakers have not stated ideas effectively.
  • Use partial quotations when a key phrase helps communicate an idea effectively, or when necessary to attribute a controversial statement.

Example: Wing said he killed the boy “because he laughed at me.”

quotations when to use2
Quotations: When to Use
  • Two partial quotes in the same sentence are distracting.
  • Avoid using quotes around a single word.

Example: He complained that no one “understands” his problem.

A quote such as that calls attention to the word, perhaps unfairly or inaccurately.

quotations when to use3
Quotations: When to Use
  • Direct quotations should illustrate a point, not tell the whole story. Use them when they help tell a better story; don’t use them just because you’re stuck on where to go next.
  • A weak quote is worse than no quote. If a quote bores or confuses people, they will lose interest in the story.
quotations when to use4
Quotations: When to Use

Using quotation to illustrate a point. Which is better?:

Wu said proponents of full democracy such as Democratic Party legislator Martin Lee know little about the economy and will wreak havoc if they gain power.

OR

“If Lee became chief executive, the Hang Seng index would fall to 3,000 and he wouldn’t have a clue what to do about it,” Wu said.

quotations when not to use
Quotations: When NOT to Use
  • Example of weak quotation that bores and confuses:

“For the type of commission we are, you would expect that particular paradigm,” he said.

He said what? Get rid of it.

quotations when to use5
Quotations: When to Use
  • If the commission’s chairman said, “We did a fantastic job because we have fantastic people working for us,” and if such a quotation is related to a point in your story, use it.
  • It’s clear, everyone understands what he is saying, and it has the added advantage of putting someone on the record with a boast he may later regret.
quotations when not to use1
Quotations -- When NOT to Use
  • Sometimes reporters start a paragraph with a quotation that takes awhile to understand because people need background information to understand it.

For example:

“We’re mobilizing for an economic war with other cities in Asia,” the chief executive said of his plan for attracting new business to the city.

quotations when to use6
Quotations -- When to Use
  • That construction forces people to complete the sentence before they can figure out the topic. Instead, turn the sentence around and use partial or indirect quotation. For example:

The chief executive said his plan for attracting new business was a mobilization for an economic war with other cities in Asia.

finally to clean or not to
Finally – To clean or not to?
  • Two views on “cleaning up” quotes:

1) It’s OK to correct grammar and obvious factual errors, especially with people not used to dealing with the media.

2) It’s never OK. Every word inside quotation marks has to be the speaker’s words. The purists fear that any changes make it easier for sources to claim misquotation.