Can we have some first sources, please?

One of the things that drives me nuts about stories on the Web is absent links to first sources.

Two examples: this piece by Nate anderson in Ars Technica and this one by Greg Sandoval in BX.BusinessWeek Cnet.* Both report on briefs filed by the MPAA and the RIAA with the FCC. Both quote from the briefs, but neither links to those briefs. Why? Were the available only on paper? I dunno, but I suspect not. (Later… Eric Bangeman says in comments below that the Ars piece had links from the start. These are, as Brian Hayashi also notes below, at the end of the piece, under “Further reading”. I didn’t see them. My apologies for missing them, and for bringing Ars in on this rant. Eric also pointed out that Greg’s piece was published by Cnet. My error in missing that too, even though that’s a bit more excusable.*)

I’ve tried finding the originals, and can’t. The FCC has a pile of search tools, including an advanced one that allows searching for exact phrases. But when I search phrases quoted by those article’s authors, nothing comes up. And when I search Google and Bing for the same, I get nothing but those two articles and others quoting them.

Could be these filings were at the FCC’s OpenInternet.gov, which seems to have no search facility (that I can find, anyway). The agency’s IdeaScale might be the place. It does have  a search facility, but when I try to dig down there — for example by looking for the phrase “protected against theft and unauthorized”, I can’t find anything. Not the phrase, not the RIAA, not the MPAA.

I like Ars. I like BX. I like Cnet.I also like Nate‘s and Greg‘s writing. I’m just tired of having to re-dig what’s already been dug, such as I had to do — and failed — when I put together the last piece I put up. (Where, by the way, I quoted Nate at length.) This isn’t about them. It’s about everybody writing on the Web.

Consider this a gentle request to journalists of all kinds: Help the rest of us out here. Give us links to your sources. Makes life a lot easier for everybody.

Thanks.

[Later...] @connectme (Brian Hayashi) came through with the MPAA filing after I posted a request on Twitter. Also with the RIAA one. Brian also noted that links are now in the Ars piece. I now see them, down in “Further reading” at the bottom. Were there there from the start and I missed them? (Yes, Eric Bangeman says, in his comment below.) If so, my apologies. (I’d still rather see the links in the text than at the bottom.)

Thanks, Brian! Thanks, Eric.

* This is an error I’ll own (like all the others above), but it brings up another gripe about which I suspect little can be done: publishers republishing stuff in ways that makes original publishers unclear. Below is a windowshot of Greg’s piece that shows the problem. Cnet.com is way down near the right end of the URL: out of sight in this case. The BX banner appears to be an ad. But the favicon in the location bar also says BX. I suppose this is “branding” at work, but at a certain point, which we’ve passed here, it gets crazy.

bx_mistake

15 comments

  1. Scott Rubin’s avatar

    You’re making an assumption that the sources are available online, or at all. You said yourself you searched for them, and couldn’t find them. I’m not saying they aren’t available in this particular case, but there are many many cases in which sources simply can not be linked.

    The most notorious case of this is when someone writes an article about a scientific paper. Most of those things are published in scientific journals, which are not available online anywhere without paying lots of money. Unless you are in a university library, or a scientist yourself, links to primary sources would all bring you to dead ends.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Sources should still be cited, with links if possible.

    Note that the Ars Technica piece does have links at the bottom to the two pieces in question, under “Further reading.” If they were there in the first place, I have a bit of egg on my face. Either way, I thank Nate for putting them there.

  3. Dima’s avatar

    I hear you because many times I encounter a similar problem.

    I think it is a real problem not only for the longer forms of online expression (like articles), but also for micro-blogging. For example, now with the Haiti relief efforts there were many scams that tried to take advantage of the situation and people would re-post dubious calls for support. When a person would re-tweet or re-post in their status a call to donate money to a certain organization there was no way to verify the original source of that information and thus its legitimacy (other than trusting the person from whom the last instance of that information was coming).

    I am guessing that citing the sources is relatively “costly” for the authors, so it would be neat to solve this issue on the meta level. Don’t you think?

  4. Ted’s avatar

    As more journalism moves from the printed page to the web browser, I think the need for better sourcing will become even more important.

    I’m working on a project down the street at MIT CSAIL that provides a plugin for WordPress bloggers to incorporate rich data displays, along with footnotes to the original data sources, in their blog posts. If you’re interested, please check it out and let us know what you think. It is called DataPress, and you can find it at http://projects.csail.mit.edu/datapress

  5. ikkini’s avatar

    As a historian gone techie, I could not agree more. There are many citation standards out there, most of them developed for “off line” sources. Links in the text for online sources (perhaps with a date to indicate when it was last found on that url), endnotes with reverences to off line sources at the bottom. It is actually pretty simple: even scientists can do it.

  6. Opensource Obscure’s avatar

    I love Ars Technica but I noted they rarely, rarely add links to their articles – even when online sources ARE available.

  7. Dennis G’s avatar

    Thank you!
    I always make it an effort to link to sources and I even only try to link to the original source. Too many popular publications are taking stories from smaller websites with a small link at the bottom.
    Let’s make an effort to link to the original source only, investing some time to look these up.

    Welcome to the echochamber.

  8. Eric Bangeman’s avatar

    I edited Nate’s post and the Further Reading links were there when I edited and scheduled the story for publication. The RIAA’s filing was *not* publicly available on the FCC site when Nate wrote the story, so we used the copy the RIAA sent us as our source. It was added to the FCC’s (wretched) online database, so we included a link to it right before we published).

    We have a “Related Links” box in our CMS that we use for stories that involve filings (e.g., FCC, court) that are publicly available. If we’re using material from another publication (e.g., Financial Times), the quote is more likely to appear in the body of the story. Either way, we link to non-press-release sources when we use them in our reporting.

    BTW, Greg Sandoval’s post that you link above was published on CNET, not Business Week :)

  9. Silona’s avatar

    I am with Scott Rubin – so often it is impossible or difficult to cite original sources (and sometimes in the case of WestLaw illegal.)

    It’s why I started citability.org to ask that all publicly available govt doc be citable on the web to a paragraph level.

    Even if you cite a page – so often they change it. So even that isn’t possible. i ran into this problem early on with change.gov. So we wrote a scraper, parser, archive in wiki format with permalinks. But no one wanted to use it because it wasn’t canonical in nature.

    BTW I am doing a dccodeathon.com Feb 26-28 to create open source tools for major platforms to support citability. Perhaps removing the barrier? I know that government docs are just a starting point to this issue. But I gotta start somewhere and legal docs already have such a pretty standardized format.

    imagine…

    http://archive.house.gov/session/billnum/datetimestamp#TitleSectionSubsectionChapterSubchapterParagraphClause

    letting the URL degrade to the most recent version – we could have true insight into the legislative process!

  10. John Dowdell’s avatar

    Thanks for the reminder that, in both science and journalism, the conclusion is unsound if it cannot be replicated. The source data needs to be opened up.

  11. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Doc, to find an FCC filing in the “network neutrality” docket, go to

    http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment_search/input

    enter 09-191 as the proceeding, and then type some part of the filer’s name in the box that says, “Name of filer.”

    What is disappointing is that press coverage of the input to the FCC comments seems to be focused on the (highly predictable) comments of Verizon, ATT, Comcast, and Time Warner on the one hand and Amazon, Google, and Google lobbying groups (e.g. Free Press and Public Knowledge) on the other. The lobbyists seem to have total control of the public discourse, while those who are out there in the field, and have new observations and ideas to contribute, are being ignored.

    For the comments of an actual competitive wireless broadband provider, who is working to bring broadband to unserved areas and provide competition to areas served by the telephone and cable companies, see

    http://www.brettglass.com/nprmcomment.pdf

    Besides critiquing the proposed rules, my comments also lay out a path for the Obama administration in the likely event that the DC Circuit rules that the FCC does not have the power to micromanage the Internet. This is especially germane now that the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate and will likely lose House seats in the fall, making it unlikely that Congress will extend the FCC’s statutory authority in the wake of the court’s decision.

Comments are now closed.