An important tool in a journalist's toolkit is attribution: explicitly saying where information came from. When and how to attribute depends on why you attribute. There are two different reasons to attribute: to help the reader make informed judgements about controversial claims, and to give credit where credit is due.

Questionable claims


Wikinews aspires to report only objective facts, and thereby to help the reader make informed decisions, not to make decisions for them. Attribution is the magic that makes this possible. If a claim is analysis, or opinion, or disputed, or if we're not sure of it, or if the reader ought to want to know where the claim comes from, report that the claimant made the claim. You're reporting an objective fact, even if the claim itself is subjective. Usually you can be extremely confident that the claimant made the claim (if not, you need to report why it's not certain they did), so your reportage is correct even if the claim turns out to be wrong. By telling the reader where the claim comes from, you're empowering the reader to make an informed assessment of the claim's merits. And by being careful to clarify where the claim comes from, you are teaching the reader, by example, to be a good information consumer by thinking about where claims come from.

This is the difference between "the fire started in a third-floor apartment" and "fire officials said the fire started in a third-floor apartment".

The claimant we report is usualy not a news organization. A good news org usually attributes claims in situations where we would, and that attribution is usually all we should pass on to the reader. We would usually report "David Cameron denied the allegations" rather than "the BBC reported David Cameron denied the allegations" — unless either there was some uncertainy whether David Cameron actually did so, making it important to know that BBC specifically reported it, or the denial was an exclusive by the BBC (see the next section).

If we aren't confident the source's attribution is correct, or if we suspect they failed to attribute when they should have, then we're up against the limits of that source's trust-worthiness and perhaps we shouldn't be reporting the claim at all; but if we do report it anyway, the unreliability of the news source becomes legitimately an issue, and our solution may involve identifying the news source in our reportage.

Be as accurate as possible in attributing claims. It's less useful to the reader to know a claim comes from "a musicology expert" than to know it's from "musicology Professor Peter Schickele of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople". (Cf. Wikinews:Style guide#Attribution.)



When reporting information provided exclusively by a particular news org, give them credit for it. This most often happens when somebody makes a comment specifically to that news org. Besides any legal and ethical issues, this is a matter of courtesy, acknowledging someone's achievement, just as we acknowledge the photographer who provided an image on Commons even though the legalities of using the image are covered by the copyright information at the image page. When we manage to get something nobody else has, we certainly want others to acknowledge the effort we put into it.

This is the difference between "the mayor said [...]" and "the mayor said, in remarks to the Daily Planet newspaper, [...]".

Direct quotation


Direct quotations must be attributed. In modern times we have preferred double quotes ("like this") for direct quotation in the body of an article, single quotes ('like this') in a headline.

Direct quotation asserts precision, so be precise in using it: do not misattribute through direct quotation. Use ellipsis when words are omitted ("like [...] this"). Use square brackets for insertions, editorial clarifications, and occasional minimal adjustments. Trivial transcription cleanup is permitted, such as fixing evident typos/punctuation in chat logs or omitting excessive/distracting "um"s and "er"s from audio recordings (which are often much more heavily used in speech than in writing).

Do not abuse direct quotation. It is a tool to inform the reader that someone used certain exact words, so don't use it for other purposes. Do not direct-quote news sources unless they become part of the story, a classic case being News Corporation phone hacking scandal.

See also Wikinews:Style guide#Quotes.