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A Problem with the Davis Vanguard’s Citation Practices

JournalisticethicsThis article originally appeared on May 27, 2018.  I am reposting it in light of a recent and blatant violation of the exact kind that I criticized here. On March 25, 2019, I wrote an article entitled, "City Council Out of Step on Parking, Roads, Housing, and the Claw: Will it Impact the 2020 Council Race?" . On March 30, 2019, David Greenwald wrote an article entitled, "My View: Some Are Saying the Council is Out of Step – Let’s Have a Look."  If you compare the two articles, it is obvious that Greenwald was responding to me, yet he never mentions me or the Davisite.  Instead, he refers vaguely to "some people." 

In other words, the Davis Vanguard continues to violate the basic principles of journalistic ethics.

Recently, the Davis Vanguard has been discussing articles from the Davisite without citing them.[1] This is, in my opinion, a violation of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics.  It also hampers the ability of a community to engage in informed discussion.

As a professor, proper citation is second nature to me, something I emphasize with my students.  For one thing, it’s about giving credit where credit is due.  After all, if someone has put labor into their work, they should get credit for it.  To fail to properly cite is to take advantage of their labor and to plagiarize.  I don’t allow this in my classes and I don’t allow this in a journal that I co-edit (Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology).  No one I know in academia allows it (apart from the occasional bad actor, who gets called out if discovered).  It’s unacceptable.

But proper citation is about more than giving credit where credit is due.  It’s also about promoting informed dialogue.  If I am discussing someone’s work, then others need to be able to confirm that I have represented that work completely (not taken things out of context or left out key ideas) and accurately.  The only way they can do that is if they know the source.  The citation allows for others to track down the source and decide for themselves whether I have presented the other person’s work completely and accurately.  Without the citation, they could easily be misled.

This is even more true, it seems to me, when we move out of the domain of academia and into the realm of public discourse.  A democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and unless citizens can confirm the accuracy and completeness of ideas that are being discussed, they cannot make informed decisions about how to think about the issues of the day and even how to vote.

Thus it is no surprise to me to learn that the SPJ contains the following two rules as part of its Code of Ethics (see links above):

  1. Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
  2. Never plagiarize. Always attribute.

It seems to me that by repeatedly failing to cite the Davisite, the Vanguard is in violation of these two rules of the SPJ Code of Ethics.  And yet, in the Vanguard’s “About Us” section of its front page, the Vanguard describes itself the way that a venue for journalism would:

The Vanguard provides the Davis Community with incisive in-depth coverage of local government on a wide variety of issues. Since 2006, The Vanguard has provided Davis and Yolo County with some of the best groundbreaking news coverage on local government and policy issues affecting our city, our schools, the county, and the Sacramento Region.

To be clear, the Davisite does not claim to be a venue for journalism.  We are merely a multi-authored blog by and for Davisites on a variety of topics of each author’s choosing.  Nonetheless, we promise to always use proper citation practices and other ethical practices as reflected in our Comment Policy.  If there is a place where you, our readers, feel that we have fallen short in these areas, please contact us and we will rectify the situation as soon as possible.

It’s also worth noting that the Vanguard won’t even allow commenters to link to the Davisite; all such links are deleted.  The explanation given for this practice that one would not “expect links to the Pepsi site to remain on a Coca Cola site” (link).  I reject the premise that we are in competition with the Davis Vanguard and hasten to point out that there is absolutely nothing commercial about the Davisite.  We have linked to the Vanguard a number of times and will try to continue to do so as a courtesy to our readers. 

 

[1] For example: This Vanguard article failed to cite this Davisite article. This Vanguard article failed to cite this Davisite article. This Vanguard article failed to cite this Davisite article.  To be a proper citation, the citing article must make a clear and unequivocal reference to the cited article so that it can be easily found.  None of the linked Vanguard articles do that.

Comments

John Troidl

Basic ethics should be mandatory for any form of journalism, including community blogs. Time for the Vanguard to step up or continue to embarrass itself.....

Dan Cornford

At the risk of being repetitive, but to amplify Roberta's points, the Davis Vanguard not only fails to cite the Davisite, but it fails to even begin to paraphrase or represent the views and arguments of people who have written on the Davisite, and whose views they want to attack, which in my view is equivalent to not just lack of fair representation but to misrepresentation.

Thus when John Troidl published a good article on Nishi traffic recently on the Davisite in the DVs response to the article this was literally all that the DV said about the article:

"I noticed on my Facebook feed an article by John Troidl on another site that argues the Nishi project will make downtown traffic worse. That certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as I will explain shortly. Mr. Troidl is no doubt a smart guy, but his logic escapes me.

"Yes, it is true that there will be 700 parking spaces at Nishi, but I will argue as I have during the course of this discussion over the second Nishi proposal that Nishi will reduce traffic impacts, not increase them. Unlike the opposition, proponents have data to back this up."

How's that for simply ignoring virtually all of the content of the opposing argument? (If you doubt me read the original article by John on the Davisite).

Likewise today (May 28) in yet another of their pro-Nishi "red herring" articles (It's no exaggeration to say that literally ALL arguments against Nishi 2.0 have been characterized as "red herrings" by the DV in the last month or so) the DV in its attack against Colin Walsh provides a very terse summary of Colin's arguments while citing opposing arguments of Ethan Walsh from the City Attorney's office at great length.

Todd Edelman

If write a comment to an article in the Vanguard, now I intentionally leave out any mention of Davisite, and of course any embedded url. Encouraging self-censorship in comments, seriously? It's sort of besides the point, but all sorts of personal attacks are allowed, as long as they are PG-13.

What happens if there's a Davisite-as-news event, i.e. someone who regularly blogs for Davisite is arrested for no reason and sent to prison by Jeff Reisig?

As a protest against all of this nonsense, join me this evening at the South Fork of Putah Creek -- I will be dumping bottles of Coca Cola and Pepsi into it.

.

Roberta L. Millstein

Dan wrote: "At the risk of being repetitive, but to amplify Roberta's points, the Davis Vanguard not only fails to cite the Davisite, but it fails to even begin to paraphrase or represent the views and arguments of people who have written on the Davisite, and whose views they want to attack, which in my view is equivalent to not just lack of fair representation but to misrepresentation."

Good point, Dan. And the two problems amplify each other. When an author misrepresents someone AND fails to cite them, then there is no way for others to know about the misrepresentation. So they get a very one-sided picture of things, which I guess is the intention, although again, it's not proper journalistic practice.

sarah tetcher

Though I agree that the DV is hurting its credibility, I would like to just point out a few things.

First, one of your articles at the moment has the Mythbusters logo at the top, which I'm sure was not used with permission.

Second, you assert that this is a blog and not a news source, yet you post articles from the Flatlander, which calls itself a newspaper.

Finally, I've never seen a proper citation on this site before this article.

Roberta L. Millstein

Sarah, thanks for your comments. In response:

1. We have rectified the issue with the logo.

2. Sometimes people submit the same piece to news outlets and to us. That doesn't make us a news outlet. Consider, for example, the advice columns (e.g., "Dear Abby," "Miss Manners") that newspapers run. Those are not "news", and if we started an advice column (hmm!) that would not make us a news outlet.

3. I've cited both the Vanguard and the Enterprise in earlier articles with information that uniquely identifies the article in question (often with a link). If you find an article that doesn't meet that standard, let us know and we will work to fix it.

Ron

Unfortunately, I recently "allowed" myself to be drawn back into commenting on the Vanguard, due to David's actions in obtaining an email addressed to me, from Will Arnold.

David then unexpectedly published a PORTION of the exchange, and built a "critique" around it, conveniently leaving out portions which would undermine his critique.

He has apparently taken similar actions with others' emails, as well.

I felt a sense of violation, as a result of David's actions. I regret that I allowed myself to be drawn back into commenting on the Vanguard, as I've (also) subsequently experienced what I would describe as nonsensical, personal attacks in the comment section. Most of those comments were subsequently deleted, but not before contributing to personal aggravation and additional ill will, toward the Vanguard itself.

I rarely, if ever have felt "good" after commenting on the Vanguard. I've wasted entire days at a time, attempting to clarify what others seem to purposefully misconstrue on the Vanguard. I'm not sure what "good" this does for the community, let alone individual commenters.

Partly due to its different moderation practices, I expect that ANY commenter would be treated with more respect on the Davisite, regardless of their views.

Finally, I'm not particularly fond of the "full name" requirement to comment on the Vanguard, especially when portions of emails are published and critiqued, and personal attacks are not adequately moderated. For that matter, how does the Vanguard know if other commenters are using their actual names, when "engaging" with others? Seems to me that the Vanguard's new ID policy has done little to discourage personal attacks as they occur, especially for those whose views might not adhere to the Vanguard's views.

Daniel Cornford

In this context it is worth posting the comments of one commentator on a DV article on March 27, 2019 (he is not the first person to have made such a comment on the DV, though in general the moderator of the DV has censored such remarks very efficiently):

"How times change… Congratulations Greenwald: You are now part of the “dark underbelly” of Davis! You are running a supposed non-profit journalism site that is actually just a political blog wherein you don’t provide any of the transparency and disclosure that ethical guidelines for nonprofit journalistic enterprises mandate. You campaign for positions while accepting large amounts of money from those campaign interests. How does it feel in there?"

On a more encouraging note: I think the DV knows that its credibility as an objective source is on the borderline of hanging by a thread, and that the Davisite now represents a serious challenge to its hegemony.

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron, re: the moderation practices of the Davisite: I know some people don't like them, and I know it can be frustrating if someone's comment doesn't appear right away. We try to be on top of them, but sometimes we're just busy! Nobody here but us volunteers. That being said, to me the benefit of moderation is just as you describe. Without it, the personal attacks go up on the site, and then it's up to the person being attacked to complain to the moderator to ask for removal, while in the interim they are there for all to read. That's why I stopped commenting on the Vanguard -- too many personal attacks, too little done about it. Personal attacks should not be the price of participation in community dialogue. With moderation, the personal attacks never appear in the first place.

Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks, Dan. I'm happy to be transparent. We have accepted $0 in outside money.

Ron

Just thought I'd mention that the Vanguard also sometimes deletes comments (which don't violate any policy that I'm aware of), and without explanation. It just happened again, to me.

Fortunately, I am starting to lose some interest in commenting on there. I guess I shouldn't have even started doing so, which "restarted" with the Vanguard's publication of the partial email to me.

I'm starting to take the Vanguard less seriously, than in the past. As a result, I feel much better. Part of this is due to the realization that the Vanguard may be losing some of its perceived influence.

The Vanguard is more like a business (accepting advertising, donations), while the Davisite is more of a community blog. I'd suggest that the model that the Davisite uses fits in with "Davis values", better. However, I will admit that there are some rather amusing comments submitted on the Vanguard, at times. And, the structure of the Vanguard's website allows commenters to respond more directly to each other. (Perhaps also facilitating conflict, though. Especially when there's no immediate moderation, or if it's applied unevenly.)


Todd Edelman

I don't recall writing my comment above, but I would still provide a citation for it ;-).

Roberta L. Millstein

Todd, and whatever happened to your Coke and Pepsi protest? ;-)

Todd Edelman

Um... I got thirsty?

Roberta L. Millstein

Ha! Better off sticking with our lovely Davis water, perhaps having run it through a filter first. :-)

SG

if you are concerned about ethics, not censoring comments that disagree with you (the people writing here) would be a good place to start.

Roberta L. Millstein

SG, no comments have been "censored." We post everything that is sent to us, excluding personal attacks -- which in truth we have rarely seen (I've not seen a personal attack in over a year, I think). We welcome respectful disagreement. If there are posts that you disagree with, please make your disagreements known. What I can guarantee is that you won't be personally attacked for doing so.

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