Quoting Sources: Mind your Manners

So, an incident recently happened to me in the writing world I feel compelled to talk about.  Mostly because I’m annoyed (angry?) and partly because I’m the “first impressions” representative of the FWJ, and I want to remind fellow community members that you should really mind your manners, because you never know who’s watching.  And partly, because I want to know your input – if I have a point or if I’m crying over spilt milk.

My Story

So I’m a subscriber and frequent user of  HARO – if you aren’t using it, check it out.  It’s a service that connects expert sources with journalist, and it’s free. You can look out for opportunities to promote yourself, and you can seek sources for articles you’re writing.  You get three emails a day and they’re easy to scan – after the FWJ Job Leads, this is a fabulous writer’s resource.

Anyway, I digress…so I make a point to always respond to HARO queries when I can, as I am very much seeking opportunities to build exposure for myself and my two businesses.  However, I’ve found myself annoyed that a writer in particular seems to abuse the free privilege of HARO by bombarding the site on a daily or weekly basis with requests for sources.  Often the queries seem to be for information that a quick search of Google would reveal.

I know this writer and have commented on the customer blog she writers for, and on occasion in the past I’ve replied to her HARO queries.  Not once have I heard back, with a thanks or a reply on my comments or anything.

So I was aghast to see on her customer’s blog, she quoted me.  Almost verbatim.  Without a source. Here were my words on an article and my name wasn’t mentioned anywhere.  Should I assume all the other line items in her list were other people’s comments too?  Should I go and re-read some of her other work elsewhere to see how many times she used the other times I’d responded and not properly quoted me either?

I found this whole thing both disturbing and disappointing.  It’s one thing to hire a ghostwriter because you can’t write an article yourself, but it’s a whole different thing to ‘crowdsource’ your work from others in the industry.

I’ll certainly not recommend this writer to anyone (remember – we’re in the same industry).  Nor will I be replying to any of her requests for sources.  I’m struggling whether to mention this to her customer – I hate to be the bad guy, and I’ve not called her out here, but damn – this is wrong!

Moral of the Story:

  • Before you go hunting for sources, stop and ask yourself:  could I just save everyone the hassle and find this in Google?
  • Whenever you use a source, do the right thing and quote them.  Give them a backlink if it’s online. That’s just the right thing to do.  And tell them about it.  You never know who’s watching.

I’d love to hear from you though.  Am I right to be annoyed, or am I crying over spilt milk? What should I do?

Photo by Markus Rodder






18 responses
  1. BJ Muntain Avatar
    BJ Muntain

    Could be she doesn’t use Google because it can be sticky stealing from websites. There’s more copyright protection attached to a webpage. Maybe she’s tried that and paid the price.

  2. Chris Mower Avatar

    I think I would approach the writer first. There’s no need to potentially destroy their career by not addressing the problem directly, with the writer, and instead going to their customer(s).

    One of the biggest issues these days is that people don’t talk to the source of the problem, but instead they talk to everyone else. Best of luck; I know how frustrating it can be to have your ideas and words taken out of your mouth and have someone else take credit for them.
    .-= Chris Mower´s last blog ..You Want Me to Change?! Holy Smokes! =-.

  3. Terreece Clarke Avatar

    I feel your pain Andy. People lose sight of basic professional etiquette. Maybe she was in a rush to hit a deadline or just forgot or maybe the writer never learned about that portion of writing – crediting sources, etc.

    I say definitely hit the writer up in a private email and share your concerns. I’d snoop around too, but I’m crazy like that. 🙂
    .-= Terreece Clarke´s last blog ..5 Ways To Tell Your Article Angle Sucks =-.

  4. Nico Avatar

    I agree with Chris, approach her privately first and ask for an explanation. Perhaps she doesn’t even that what she’s doing is wrong and needs someone to spell it out for her.

    Also, another great “resource”: http://www.letmegooglethatforyou.com. It could help make things pretty clear. 😉
    .-= Nico´s last blog ..Short story submitted, the price of IRCs and something published =-.

  5. Mary Jo Avatar

    I’d address it with the writer (could it be that she’s clueless) or contact HARO about the issue. They monitor the community quite strictly and have a code of conduct/ethics that are enforced.

    However, I’d NOT go to the client. The issue is between you and the writer, and I think it’s best to keep it that way.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..MJ’s Travel Favorites 5-9-10 =-.

  6. Kara Williams Avatar

    Andy! Absolutely report to HARO. This is violating terms of service. She’ll be banned from site – sounds like she needs to be. (Or at least will get strict warning.)

    Please, on behalf of other writers out there and other peeps who, like you, serve as sources, she must be stopped. Email HARO.

  7. allena Avatar

    is she a newbie that doesn’t know better? not that that is an excuse, but an opportunity for education.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..My Gut Says You Won’t Pay Me =-.

  8. Abby Avatar

    My first reaction was similar to yours, so big props for giving the heat a little time to cool down before deciding on your course of action. I have to agree with Chris as well, as going to the source (or source stealer, as the case may be) can often head off any further confusion or misunderstanding.

    Depending on how that interaction went, I would contact HARO and follow up. Even if she “didn’t know” she was wrong, which is doubtful, they need to be aware that this is going on. It would TOTALLY tick me off and I don’t think you’re being petty at all…

  9. AuroraGG Avatar

    “I’m struggling whether to mention this to her customer…”

    I find it interesting that you would consider approaching her customer about the issue, before contacting her to discuss the matter. Well, not interesting really, but more like… bad ettiquite.
    .-= AuroraGG´s last blog ..Ecommerce 101: 6 Guides to get You Started =-.

  10. Andy Hayes Avatar
    Andy Hayes

    Thanks for all the feedback folks. AuroraGG, why would you say that contacting the site she works for is bad etiquette? If you didn’t like what was in your newspaper, would you hunt down the writer or would you contact the newspaper? For all I know, maybe this writer has an editor who removed my name? We certainly don’t have all the facts here.

    Nonetheless, since the person in question might not realise her mistake, I think I’ll go with the group consensus and send her a brief email, and include Nico’s useful website suggestion =) If I don’t get a reply, I’ll take it up with HARO (since she’s subsequently posted more dubious stuff)

    Thanks everyone for all this feedback. I hope we’ve all got the reminder to appreciate our sources!

    1. AuroraGG Avatar

      Well, if I “just didn’t like” what was in my newspaper, Yes, I would contact the newspaper. If the reason I didn’t like what was in the paper was because I assumed a journalist intentionally quoted me without sourcing, I would try my best to contact the journalist first. Especially if I knew this writer, as you mentioned in your post you do.

      As your reply suggested, all facts are not known. You could be steaming about an honest mistake –or not– which is why I would go to the writer first to get the facts and directly ask her why this happened.

      I don’t necessarily think that going to her client is bad etiquette, as that may be the end result if she doesn’t offer a valid reason and suggest she will contact her Editor for a correction. I think going to her client BEFORE making an attempt to learn the facts and to ask her yourself first is bad etiquette.
      .-= AuroraGG´s last blog ..Ecommerce 101: 6 Guides to get You Started =-.

  11. allena Avatar

    andy, please don’t compare “not liking” something in a newspaper with violating writing community generally accepted ethics. One is obviously an editor probelm and one is obviously a writer to writer problem. That is to say- I completely agree with Aurora, as did your other commenters.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..My Gut Says You Won’t Pay Me =-.

  12. Stephanie Suesan Smith Avatar

    I have also noticed one or two people who seem to think HARO is their own personal search engine instead of a place to find professionals on an occasional basis. I find it annoying and would report your acquaintance to HARO. If she can’t read the terms of service, she doesn’t need to be there.

    I disagree about going directly to the writer about the unsourced quotes. That is such a huge breach of journalistic ethics that I would go straight to her boss. Again, if she doesn’t know any better, she doesn’t need to be doing this.

    .-= Stephanie Suesan Smith´s last blog ..Interviewed by Tracy Doerr =-.

    1. Leigh Shulman Avatar

      I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Once. Beyond that, though, I simply stop replying to their queries. The point (and I think genius) of HARO is that it’s mutually beneficial.

      I can’t see myself going to a person’s boss, though, unless a huge breach was involved. It would have to be misquoting or taking me out of context in a damaging way plus refusal to rectify.

  13. Peter Shankman Avatar

    Hi there. Peter Shankman. I run HARO. Um… you know, we do kinda have policies about this – As almost all the journos who use HARO know, if you email me with a problem, I usually take action ASAP, including banning the journalist or the source if it’s bad enough.

    So… Hi there. Feel free to email, and let me look into it. You’d probably have a better response from HARO by doing that, as opposed to my having to find this out by someone on Twitter DM’ing me and saying “Dude, someone’s badmouthing HARO.” (Which I don’t think you’re doing, per se, I’m just curious as to why you didn’t email me.)

    So… Email me. We’ll handle it.



    1. Andy Hayes Avatar
      Andy Hayes

      Hi Peter

      I figured you’d show up at some point. 🙂 I’ll drop you an email. Absolutely no disrespect whatsoever intended to HARO – I’m not sure where your 3rd party got such a suggestion as this piece in my view is clearly about the writer and journalistic policy, not the medium in which we connected. HARO is by far the best out there for connecting journo’s and experts, just ask all the people I’ve sent there!

      Know you’re a busy guy, Peter, so thanks for joining us here at FWJ.


  14. eileen Avatar

    Sounds lazy and sloppy. Even if you initially get info from somewhere, do some backup research, confirm and rewrite. Isn’t that what it’s all about? As for not ruining her writing career, I’m apt to think the same way. I figure people who cheat will get bitten in one way or another, I don’t need to bite them. Or something.

  15. Leigh Shulman Avatar

    I can totally understand why you’d be irked by this. It’s really aggravating to be quoted without a link and attribution (which for me is the same as a thank you).

    That said, I think so many of us deal with hundreds of people on a daily basis. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if some things fall through the cracks. That’s not to say it’s ok to do these things, but more to say that maybe we need to have some amount of patience with each other.

    And a quick e-mail saying, hey, do you mind adding a source and link to where you quoted me.

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