Article by Molly Blake, Blue Star Families Managing Editor
When a powerful article written by Blue Star Families CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet appeared on ForeignPolicy.com, an online global political magazine, I clicked the ubiquitous Facebook “like” button along with 276 others. Thanks to those likes, Tweets and shares, the article thankfully reached a wider audience-as it brilliantly summed up why the Petraeus scandal and the media’s overwhelming coverage of the alleged affair distracted America’s attention from crucial issues that real military families are facing.
Similarly, Michelle Galvez’s monthly Military Moments column appears in The Flagship, the military newspaper serving the Hampton Roads area, and then on the Blue Star Families blog-but always with credit given to Galvez. Bloggers routinely repost articles, link back to one another, swap posts and quote other bloggers to keep site content fresh and interesting. And in the case of the Foreign Policy article, to ensure that anyone who doesn’t happen to frequent that site had an opportunity to read the article.
THE WILD WEB
There are reportedly 181 million blogs according to NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company. In a community that large, with so many folks out there tapping away at their keyboard and posting online, there’s bound to be some unscrupulous content scrapers or copycat bloggers thieving work (more formally known as “intellectual property”) and passing it off as their own.
It happened to Ward Carroll, the editor of Military.com. He stumbled across an online story about an aircraft that sounded suspiciously like an article he had written.
“I got ripped off,” he says.
HOW MILSPOUSES DO IT
Heather Sweeny, formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster, racked up an impressive 1,309 followers in the two-and-a-half years she blogged at Riding the Roller Coaster. Sweeny hosted a blog swap during the holidays and used fellow milspouse bloggers’ posts to start what she called, “a larger conversation about issues.” But,” she said, “I always linked back to the original article.”
By doing so, she’s giving credit to the author of that piece of intellectual property, and she’s sending traffic in their direction.
Sweeny isn’t alone. Thousands of military spouses blog about deployments, employment, births, deaths, home decorating and cooking. Readers pour through the posts under the assumption that what they are reading is
#1) the truth
#2) the original work of the blogger who posted it
Isaac Cubillos, a long-time editor, author and blogger, says military spouses represent an important voice. But he cautions against taking liberties with facts, sources and information.
Blogging has grown up since the word was first coined in the late 1990s (an aggregate of web and log). It’s widely accepted today as a mainstream form of media and news. The Huffington Post is one massive blog. Gawker, The Daily Beast and Hollywood’s infamous PerezHilton.com are all blogs. In fact, at the 2012 BlogHer conference, the bloggers mecca, President Barack Obama opened the event with an address that instantly confirmed what the thousands of attendees already knew: Blogging is legit.
“When the general public has access to your site, the rules of journalism set in,” said Cubillos. “Even if you only have 200 followers on your blog, that’s 200 people who are relying on the information you are providing.” A lack of experience with journalism doesn’t exempt you from the rules, if you decide to publish a blog.
Carroll agrees that milspouse bloggers need to hold themselves to a higher standard and “remain strict about attribution.” While he says it’s unlikely that bloggers are frequently and maliciously stealing intellectual property, “people can get sloppy.”
“It’s not hard to link back to the original article and give that writer credit,” he says. And yet many bloggers don’t.
Carroll and Cubillos also encourage budding bloggers to attend educational conferences, take a class on the basics of attribution, and meet experts face to face. The more we learn, the stronger our blogs will be.
For some milspouses, a blog that develops enough of a following can become a profitable business or a fabulous way to accomplish things like recruiting and managing volunteers, publicizing events or sharing valuable information and insight with other military families. It’s also a great way to publicize yourself as you pursue a career in any field.
Feeling the urge to blog? Do it. Just make sure you do it well.
“There’s so much junk out there,” said Cubillos. “So blog responsibly.”
Ethical Blogging Checklist
Any time you’re using the writing of someone else on your blog…
Cite Your Sources
Use a link or text to let readers know the information came from a reputable source. (Also note the name of that source, unless you’ve been asked to use the information anonymously.) Include a link to the original article, if it is available online. If it’s only available in print, list the publication where it originally appeared.
Contact Your Sources
Contact the author of any article you’d like to quote, ask for permission to use it, and ask if they have special requests, such as a link back to their website or blog.
“This article originally appeared at (fill in URL or website name).”
Don’t post a photo or graphic on your blog unless the owner of the image has given you permission. Always credit any photograph you publish with the photographer’s name with a brief text like, “Photo credit: (insert name)” and note the origin of all graphics.
Always reflect on your work before you post it. Are you giving the impression that someone else’s writing (whether a few lines or a whole story) or photography is yours, or that you’ve gotten permission to publish text or an image when you actually haven’t?
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