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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?
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?
(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.)
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
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.
Attribute information to people, documents or publications; not to places or institutions.
When the statement is controversial.
When the statement is an opinion.
When the statement is a direct or indirect quote.
When the statement assigns blame or suggests a point that some may dispute.
Attributive words are accurate and impartial.
Some writers try with “replied,” “declared,” “added,” “explained,” “stated,” “pointed out” and others. But each has a specific meaning.
“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.
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.
Yes: “Nice to meet you, Wing,” Chew said, smiling.
No: “Nice to meet you, Wing,” Chew smiled.
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.
All can replaced by either “said” or “added.”
So this is better:
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Example: Wing said he killed the boy “because he laughed at me.”
Example: He complained that no one “understands” his problem.
A quote such as that calls attention to the word, perhaps unfairly or inaccurately.
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.
“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.
“For the type of commission we are, you would expect that particular paradigm,” he said.
He said what? Get rid of it.
“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.
The chief executive said his plan for attracting new business was a mobilization for an economic war with other cities in Asia.
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.