Attribution tips for journalists, in a nutshell

With thanks to JEA member adviser Dana Smith, from Bellingham, WA


When you are citing, but not quoting

Sources in AP style are much less scholarly than MLA or APA, since the purpose is simple attribution with clarity for the reader.

Students should format an attribution like an indirect quote.

  • Athletes in other parts of the country have been kneeling during the national anthem, the Seattle Times reported Sept. 14.
  • Bellingham School District has 25 percent of its students under the poverty line, according to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website.
  • Twelve cases of measles have been reported since Aug. 1, the Whatcom County Health department said.  (I think, personally, that “said in a statement” or “said in a press release” is redundant.)

Keep it simple and unencumbered. Using awkward constructions like “was quoted in a May 25 article reprinted on the Huffington Post” just confuses the reader.

If your article is published online, any sources/references can be (should be) hyperlinked.

And, finally: if students need so many layers of attribution, then consider whether they can/should be doing more original research/reporting. Why say what the national press says? Localize and make it your own if and when possible. Interview local sources about things like health issues.

When you are quoting sources directly

The recommended attributive verb is “said,” though any number of editors are fine with “says” for narrative scenes. Unless you are publishing in Great Britain, 99 percent of the punctuation goes INSIDE the close quotes.

  • Peyton Manning said, “I am proud to announce my candidacy for mayor of Denver.” (Short attribution is best in this order: speaker said.)
  • “I am proud to announce my candidacy for mayor of Denver,” said Peyton Manning, former Broncos and Colts star quarterback. (When the appositive is lengthy, it makes sense to go with “said” first.)
  • “I am proud to announce my candidacy for mayor of Denver,” Peyton Manning said, “and I hope to bring the city the same fame as I gave Omaha.” (When possible, “bury” your attribution at natural breaks in a longer direct quote.)