Sun's b magazine plays fast and loose with story attribution

New media, new rules?

The Baltimore Sun Media Group's free publication b seems to be pushing the boundaries of journalism, and not necessarily in a good way. Lori Barrett's blog posts, reprinted in b daily under the heading "b-log," have gone back and forth on giving credit to the media outlets that reported the news she's riffing on since the publication started last April. In bloggery, a link is usually enough credit (à la the Baltimore Crime blog), but printed publications, like b, usually abide by a stricter standard.

According to a 2005 City Paper story, the Sun's then-multimedia editor Steve Sullivan wasn't thrilled when other news outlets (WYPR-FM, in particular) used information from The Sun without attribution--so are the rules different for b?

This week, Barrett's printed column in b has used information that seems to come from The Sun, WBAL-AM, and WYPR without crediting the organizations. In one case, an article about capital punishment, a quote from David Kaczynski seems to have been lifted from WYPR's online transcript of a radio interview, which is slightly different than the audio available on WYPR's site.

B's blog links to the radio station's transcript earlier in the post, but the paper version makes no reference to it.

Comparing the online b to a stack of older issues reveals a number of instances, in the early weeks of the paper's publication, of failure to attribute information in the print version. On April 21, a story about gas prices borrowed from WBAL, and a story about a prison escape used Associated Press information and linked online to The Examiner. None of those organizations was credited in print. The next day, a story about the Baltimore's state's attorney seemingly took information from The Examiner and linked to The Ex online, but said mention didn't make it into print. Ditto with a story the same day about an elementary-school teacher arrested for drug charges (Examiner), and a stabbing outside a funeral (The Sun and CNN). On April 24, The Sun and The Retriever (UMBC's newspaper) both got their due in Barrett's column for that day's stories, but the following Monday, The Examiner, WJZ-TV and the Baltimore Business Journal all got the shaft.

Without undergoing a complete survey of all the past issues of b, it looks like the paper has gotten better at giving kudos in print, which is why this week's backslide is a bit of a surprise. Tim Windsor, b's interactive vice president, refers questions about the print edition to b's print editor, Anne Talent, but says, "It's our policy to link to source material on"

In 2006, after a City Paper article written by Gadi Dechter (who has since moved on to work at The Sun), The Sun found numerous instances in the columns of Michael Olesker (who has, in turn, since moved to The Examiner) of what Sun public editor Paul Moore characterized as "evidence that he had used material from other newspapers without attribution." Moore's column on the subject was titled "Failure to credit others' words breaks cardinal rule," and the Sun's investigation was launched after Dechter contacted them about six instances in which Olesker used similar phrases to those published by The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Sun. Moore cited five examples taken from "a larger number of columns" from six years of Olesker's published writing that, he wrote, "lacked appropriate attribution." Those incidents ended Olesker's 27-year career at that paper.

Barrett's printed column has used information from other sources four times in the past two days without attribution, and at least 13 times over the past four months. In response to an e-mail about the lack of attributions in the paper, Talent writes, "When we're picking up items for the b log page, the policy we've developed is to attribute the original source that Lori's using--so, for instance, if she's linking to a Sun story on or a WBAL story on, we would say 'according to The Sun,' or 'WBAL reports.' If those sites are picking up an AP story, we attribute the item to AP.

"I will reinforce this policy with the appropriate page designer/editor. Thanks for pointing this out."

A series of follow-up questions about the difference between Olesker's omissions and b's were sent to Talent on Tuesday. She answered only one: "Yes, we will be running a correction tomorrow."

And a correction, which does not seem to appear online, ran in Wednesday's paper, listing this week's missing attributions. It reads in part "Due to editing errors in our print edition, attribution that exists online in b's blog items was inadvertently not picked up for the b-log column on page 4 at times . . . b regrets the errors."

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