News writers must use sources without plagiarizing them. This page is about how to do that.
This skill is vitally important because almost everything on the Internet is under copyright, even if it doesn't have an explicit copyright notice. Even most blogs are under copyright.
Plagiarism is presenting some else's work as your own (wikt:plagiarism). This means your writing has to be your own work: even in pure synthesis writing, you should be adding something of your own. The facts you use are from the sources, but you choose which facts to include, how to organize them, and the words, phrases, and sentence structures to express them. Craft a presentation based on your insight into the story. If you craft it well enough, when you're all done and double-check it for similarities to the sources, there will be little or nothing for your double-check to find.
We're going to illustrate how to do this with an example, with colored highlighting to show just how the synthesis relates to its sources. It can be difficult to imagine the sort of thing wanted until one has seen it from the inside, so we're giving you the chance to see it from the inside. Although the example is pure synthesis, even interviews —the most nearly pure form of original reporting— draw on sources for background, typically used in the introduction to the interview.
In later sections of the page, we'll explain some of the more important technical points — paraphrasing, citing sources, copyright conditions, and use of direct quotes (things between quotation marks).
We want to illustrate how synthesis in a Wikinews article relates to the sources. For simplicity, we'll assume pure synthesis based on just two sources. The synthesis text will be linked so you can click on any passage in the synthesis to see which source passages it comes from, and on any passage used from the sources to see where its content appears in the synthesis. Although the point is to show how to use copyrighted sources, we couldn't show the entire source articles if they were copyrighted; so we've drawn our material from a novel that's no longer under copyright. As noted in the section on copyright, though, you should mostly avoid close-copying from public domain sources too, for both neutrality and originality.
Suppose you're browsing news on the internet and find the following article — while it's still fresh. Let's say you're reading it the next day. You'd heard about this gentleman's death, and wondered about the circumstances, so you decide this is worth writing up for Wikinews.
Devon County Chronicle — Death of Sir Charles Baskerville by natural causes; rumors dispelled
14 June, 1889.
The recent sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville, whose name has been mentioned as the probable Liberal candidate for Mid-Devon at the next election, has cast a gloom over the county. Though Sir Charles had resided at Baskerville Hall for a comparatively short period his amiability of character and extreme generosity had won the affection and respect of all who had been brought into contact with him. In these days of nouveaux riches it is refreshing to find a case where the scion of an old county family which has fallen upon evil days is able to make his own fortune and to bring it back with him to restore the fallen grandeur of his line. Sir Charles, as is well known, made large sums of money in South African speculation. More wise than those who go on until the wheel turns against them, he realized his gains and returned to England with them. It is only two years since he took up his residence at Baskerville Hall, and it is common talk how large were those schemes of reconstruction and improvement which have been interrupted by his death. Being himself childless, it was his openly expressed desire that the whole countryside should, within his own lifetime, profit by his good fortune, and many will have personal reasons for bewailing his untimely end. His generous donations to local and county charities have been frequently chronicled in these columns.
The circumstances connected with the death of Sir Charles cannot be said to have been entirely cleared up by the inquest, but at least enough has been done to dispose of those rumours to which local superstition has given rise. There is no reason whatever to suspect foul play, or to imagine that death could be from any but natural causes. Sir Charles was a widower, and a man who may be said to have been in some ways of an eccentric habit of mind. In spite of his considerable wealth he was simple in his personal tastes, and his indoor servants at Baskerville Hall consisted of a married couple named Barrymore, the husband acting as butler and the wife as housekeeper. Their evidence, corroborated by that of several friends, tends to show that Sir Charles's health has for some time been impaired, and points especially to some affection of the heart, manifesting itself in changes of colour, breathlessness, and acute attacks of nervous depression. Dr. James Mortimer, the friend and medical attendant of the deceased, has given evidence to the same effect.
The facts of the case are simple. Sir Charles Baskerville was in the habit every night before going to bed of walking down the famous Yew Alley of Baskerville Hall. The evidence of the Barrymores shows that this had been his custom. On the 4th of June Sir Charles had declared his intention of starting next day for London, and had ordered Barrymore to prepare his luggage. That night he went out as usual for his nocturnal walk, in the course of which he was in the habit of smoking a cigar. He never returned. At twelve o'clock Barrymore, finding the hall door still open, became alarmed, and, lighting a lantern, went in search of his master. The day had been wet, and Sir Charles's footmarks were easily traced down the Alley. Halfway down this walk there is a gate which leads out on to the moor. There were indications that Sir Charles had stood for some little time here. He then proceeded down the alley, and it was at the far end of it that his body was discovered. One fact which has not been explained is the statement of Barrymore that his master's footprints altered their character from the time that he passed the moor-gate, and that he appeared from thence onward to have been walking upon his toes. One Murphy, a gipsy horse-dealer, was on the moor at no great distance at the time, but he appears by his own confession to have been the worse for drink. He declares that he heard cries but is unable to state from what direction they came. No signs of violence were to be discovered upon Sir Charles's person, and though the doctor's evidence pointed to an almost incredible facial distortion—so great that Dr. Mortimer refused at first to believe that it was indeed his friend and patient who lay before him—it was explained that that is a symptom which is not unusual in cases of dyspnœa and death from cardiac exhaustion. This explanation was borne out by the post-mortem examination, which showed long-standing organic disease, and the coroner's jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence. It is well that this is so, for it is obviously of the utmost importance that Sir Charles's heir should settle at the Hall and continue the good work which has been so sadly interrupted. Had the prosaic finding of the coroner not finally put an end to the romantic stories which have been whispered in connection with the affair, it might have been difficult to find a tenant for Baskerville Hall. It is understood that the next-of-kin is Mr. Henry Baskerville, if he be still alive, the son of Sir Charles Baskerville's younger brother. The young man when last heard of was in America, and inquiries are being instituted with a view to informing him of his good fortune.
Your focal event is presumably the announcement of the conclusions of the inquest, which took place apparently on June 14, one day ago; the death took place eleven days ago, so as a focus it would be quite stale.
For a synthesis article you need a second, independent source. You look further and find this:
Daily Scandal — Strange circumstances surround Sir Charles Baskerville's death
Despite the inquest's finding today that Sir Charles Baskerville died from 'natural causes', strange things are afoot on Dartmoor.
The finding of natural causes is certainly to the financial advantage of the region. Sir Charles was an important local benefactor, giving generously to local charities and investing in the local economy from the fortune he had made in South Africa. Reportedly his will, though magnanimous as he was in life, keeps the bulk of his fortune together with the title and estate, so that his heir can continue his grand example of noblesse oblige. Yet his good works will come crashing down if there is no tenant in Baskerville Hall. The last thing the local economy needs is for Sir Charles's heir to be discouraged from taking up residence there; but the reputation of the place, and the rumors now circulating about Dartmoor, are grim.
Baskervilles have lived at Baskerville Hall for five centuries. For over two centuries, the family is supposed to have lived under the curse of a demonic Hound, brought upon them by alleged atrocities of the locally notorious Sir Hugo Baskerville. In more recent generations, Baskervilles have met evil fates with uncanny regularity. Sir Charles's death is in keeping with the family tradition. Even accepting natural causes following recent malaise, it was clearly an unpleasant death; by the testimony of his doctor, the throes of heart failure so contorted his face as to render it nearly unrecognizable. He was himself nearly the last of his name; his two younger brothers both died before him, the youngest falling to yellow fever after fleeing to Central America in disgrace. The surviving Baskerville heir, it is believed, is a son of the middle brother, now living in Canada; after him, the estate would pass out of the name entirely, to distant cousins named Desmond.
If the Canadian heir is enticed to occupy Baskerville Hall, his presence may also ultimately benefit the Liberal Party, who lost with Sir Charles a likely Parliamentary candidate for Mid-Devon.
Meanwhile, the story of the curse has acquired more direct support. Outre tales of a demonic Hound are unfashionable in our enlightened age, but recently a number of reliable local inhabitants have witnessed a huge luminous creature on the moor, of ghastly and spectral aspect, corresponding to no animal known to science. Few residents are now willing to cross the moor at night — which only increases the aura of strangeness about the death of Sir Charles. For he too was known to avoid the moor after dark; yet, from evidence at inquest by his butler, during his nightly constitutional on the grounds of the Hall on the night of his death, he lingered by the gate to the moor. Then he proceeded inexplicably on his toes, toward the further end of the grounds where he died with no tangible evidence of any other agency about. It is well we have the official organ of an inquest to explain to us there is nothing remarkable in these events, for a lay observer could scarcely be expected to realize their mundanity on his own.
Okay, you've got your two sources. They're clearly mutually independent. Let's suppose both newspapers are fairly reputable at least in terms of fact-checking, even if —as seems clear— they may leave something to be desired in neutrality. For us, the difference of perspective helps illuminate skew in the sources; and we can offer our readers a neutral view of the story.
How do you turn these two sources into a Wikinews article? Neither of them follows Wikinews style. One approach would be to list the five Ws and an H, jot down very-short answers for as many as you reasonably can, and forge the answers into a lede; then read the sources through and choose the key points you want to go into detail about, choose how to arrangement, take notes for each point on what the sources say about it, write your points, and copyedit the whole for smooth flow. (Notes for this synthesis.) Voila.
By whatever process, let us suppose you write the following. Notice that
passages in the synthesis often draw on disparate parts of the sources.
when things next to each other in a source are both used in the synthesis, they are often apart from each other in the synthesis.
of those ideas from each source that are used in the synthesis, their overall ordering is rearranged, and they are intermixed with ideas from the other source.
the reordering of ideas, and the omission of some information from the sources, do more than reduce similarity to sources (though they certainly do that) — they also provide a new manner of presentation of the story, which is due to the synthesis author.
Wikinews — Inquest dismisses rumors surrounding death of Sir Charles Baskerville
Wednesday, May 15, 1889
Yesterday in Devon County, England, an inquest into the cause of death of Sir Charles Baskerville returned a verdict of "natural causes". Sir Charles died on June 4. The verdict dismissed rumors of a local supernatural threat to the Baskerville family, which reports noted might otherwise have discouraged Sir Charles's heir from occupying Baskerville Hall in Devon and continuing his philanthropic contributions to the local economy.
Everything written is under copyright by default: copyright is automatic unless explicitly relinquished. For example, virtually all blogs are copyright by their authors.
Some things are explicitly put into the public domain —thus, no copyright— such as Voice of America. In those cases you should beware of bias. Often things are put into the public domain because their author has deliberately put a certain "spin" on events and wants that spin to be circulated as widely as possible. So for neutrality, as well as originality (not to mention keeping in practice), it's best not to copy too much from these sources.
When using exact words, use quotation marks. Failure to use quotation marks for exact words is plagiarism.
Do not quote the news sources. There are very rare exceptions, when a news source becomes part of the story. Under ordinary circumstances, you shouldn't be using the exact words of news sources in the first place.