I very much like Drum’s expanded take on creditmongering. In particular, I like these bits:

  • If I’m responding directly to someone, of course I link to them.
  • Even if I don’t respond directly to someone, but only to a piece they linked to, I’ll probably provide a link if they said something interesting.
  • If someone links to a common story that I would have seen anyway, I don’t.
  • If someone links to a story I probably wouldn’t have seen on my own, I usually give credit one way or another. […]

Beyond that, though, several people have suggested that if you get an idea from someone, you should credit them regardless of any other linking/credit rules you might follow. This is where I’d make the distinction between ideas and IDEAS. The former is inspiration: if I read something that makes me want to dig into the plight of the long-term unemployed, I’m not likely to credit anyone. It’s just a topic. Lots of people have addressed it, and the fact that I happened to get my inspiration from one person rather than another probably doesn’t matter much.

But an IDEA is different: this is a very specific theory or model or explanation for something. Or maybe an original insight. If you mention an IDEA, or riff on it to produce one of your own, you should credit the originator. […]

I guess maybe the overriding rule for credit is this: it doesn’t cost anything and it can’t hurt. If in doubt, give credit.

Having discussed this topic with other journalists, I can add that Drum’s conventions are not universal. Not everyone thinks it’s important to provide credit to someone for shedding light on a story (or source or paper) they’d not have seen on their own. Not everyone thinks it’s important to give credit to an IDEA, particularly if it is one they might have come up with on their own.

I point out that that property — that you might have come up on your own with an IDEA you saw elsewhere — is unobservable to the reader. I can’t know if you came up with the IDEA on your own or if you copied it from the post on another blog that appeared yesterday. What I would stress to journalists and bloggers is that you should not even want such a suspicion to creep into the mind of your reader. If you read it elsewhere and you repeat it, even if it isn’t the deepest IDEA in the world, and you might have thought of it on your own, you should credit the originator. Otherwise, it could look like you’re trying to get away with something. That doesn’t look good. Moreover, a link doesn’t cost you anything. If you’re worried it’ll make it look like you have fewer original ideas then you’ve already admitted you’re doing something wrong.


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