Fact-checking, sourcing, plagiarism and attribution guidelines
Editorial standards | Fact-checking | Ethics policy
Sourcing, plagiarism and attribution guidelines
Mongabay is transparent about how we source the information in our stories. This continuous effort to attribute information to its original source shows respect to those whose research Mongabay relies upon, the journalists who report complementary information, and our audience who depend upon Mongabay to inform their understanding and decision-making.
In principle, reporters should cite sources for every statement of fact in their article. This attribution includes describing the names and titles of individuals cited, the location where information is sourced from (a publication, social media platform, a place, or press release) and how the reporter obtained the information (from an interview, in writing, though original analysis). Within the body of the article, references to online sources should be hyperlinked within the text.
Facts that are considered to be “common knowledge” may not require a specific citation. However, there is no general standard definition of common knowledge, and Mongabay’s global audience makes it challenging to assess how ubiquitous knowledge is. We recommend journalists that work with Mongabay to be more generous when citing sources for their statements and request input from their editor when in doubt.
Mongabay’s commitment to citing sources is also evident in our inclusion of citations at the end of every story that references a published academic journal article. Mongabay follows the American Psychological Association (APA) style guidelines for citing academic literature. Guidance and examples of how to format these citations are available in Mongabay’s Copy Style Guide.
Simply put, plagiarism is never acceptable. A reporter’s intentional misrepresentation of others’ work as their own will result in disciplinary action and will likely lead to the end of a professional relationship with Mongabay. Unintentional plagiarism must be corrected following Mongabay’s guidelines on corrections.
The recommended way to minimize the risks of plagiarism is to attribute information to its source. This recommendation applies to paraphrased passages and direct quotations alike. For statements that are considered common knowledge, originality in phrasing is vital as verbatim and unattributed use of already published copy is inappropriate in almost all circumstances.
Unattributed reuse of short passages of a reporter’s own work or published work within Mongabay is permissible in situations where stories share a common background, and the same subject matter needs to be repetitively explained. It is essential to keep this reuse as short as possible, and for reporters to flag such passages for their editors. Do not pitch Mongabay an article that is already published in another outlet.
Fabrication or falsification of any material is cause for immediate termination.
Mongabay rarely grants anonymity since most circumstances do not warrant granting this request. There are legitimate reasons to do so, however, primarily a legitimate fear of reprisal or other material harm resulting from being a named source. Source requests to provide off-the-record or background information more candidly must be judged based on an assessment of the importance of the information and the source’s reliability.
Mongabay staff should confer with editorial leadership (director level or above) about such requests before agreeing to provide anonymity, as there are significant implications to fulfilling this obligation.
Establishing informed consent with a source upfront is crucial. This needs to involve at least one discussion about what is on-the-record and what is being provided as background information and the extent to which anonymity places restrictions on the types of information that can be reported. Mongabay abides by the definitions for on-the-record, off-the-record, background, and deep background articulated by the Associated Press in their policies on anonymous sources.
Examples of conditions that apply to the use of anonymous sources include:
- Mongabay’s reason for granting this anonymity request will be published, which may include contextual details needed for readers to assess the source’s credibility;
- Mongabay editors may need to be aware of the identity of the source;
- Mongabay editors will apply increased scrutiny to derogatory comments attributed to an anonymous source;
- Reporters should be aware that they may potentially be compelled to testify in court should defamation or any other legal action be brought against Mongabay.
Undercover reporting requires deception, which presents an ethical conundrum for all journalists who consider undertaking it. Honesty and truthfulness are fundamental for trustworthiness, so employing false pretense to reveal the truth is inherently risky.
Mongabay also recognizes that undercover reporting techniques can reveal truths that are otherwise impossible to obtain. For this reason, undercover reporting should only be considered when it presents the only viable means for obtaining relevant information once all other avenues have been exhausted.
- To learn more about the history of undercover reporting, please visit this database of articles collected by the NYU Libraries.
Corrections, clarifications, and updates
Mongabay publishes daily in multiple languages by working with a global and multi-cultural team. Everyone working with Mongabay shares a common commitment to publish in an accurate, honest, and ethical manner. We also recognize that mistakes can happen, and Mongabay must be accountable for errors.
Here are the following actions Mongabay takes to be accountable for mistakes:
- Advise staff and contributors to prioritize accuracy, clarity, and precision in their journalism.
- Include both private feedback forms and public comments sections on each post so avenues for reaching Mongabay’s editors are easily accessible.
- Respond quickly to feedback that indicates information in an article is erroneous or imprecise.
- Post public corrections at the bottom of stories in a timely fashion. The corrections should explain what was changed to address the error.
- Be transparent about the journalistic considerations that went into the original editorial choices when explaining why it a change was necessary.
Guidelines for writing and formatting corrections is available in the Mongabay Copy Style Guide.