This 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. 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):
- Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
- 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.
 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.