The BBC’s social media lead for the English Regions Robin Morley has invited requests from “reputable hyperlocal websites” who want links to their stories included in the BBC’s regional news websites. Continue reading
Here is a checklist covering 8 mistakes made repeatedly by first-time web writers, which I’ve put together for one of my classes. The idea is simple: if you answer ‘No’ to any of these, carry on to the accompanying guidance that follows underneath. Continue reading
The BBC have just emailed new linking guidelines to their staff. They stipulate that linking is “essential” to online journalism and in one slide (it’s a PowerPoint document) titled ‘If you remember nothing else’ highlight how linking will change:
What we used to do…
- Lists of archive news stories
- Homepages only on external websites
- No inline linking in news stories
What we do now – think adding value…
- Avoid news stories and link to useful stuff – analysis, explainers, Q&As, pic galleries etc
- On external websites look beyond homepage to pages of specific relevance
- Inline linking in news stories is OK when it’s to a primary source
Other points of note in the document include the repeated emphasis on useful deep linking, and the importance of the newstracker module (which links to coverage on other news sites). Curiously, when referring to inline links it does say that “different rules can apply” to BBC blogs – “speak to blogs team if in doubt”.
Something I did look for – and find – was a reference to linking to scientific journals. And here it is: “In news stories inline links must go to primary sources only– eg scientific journal article or policy report (1 or 2 per story; avoid intro)”
This is significant given the previous campaigning on this issue.
On the whole it’s a good set of guidance – I’ll refrain from publishing it in hope that the BBC will…
UPDATE: It seems The Guardian followed up the story and embedded the document, so here it is:
In it Steve not only invites comments on how their linking policy should develop, but also gives a valuable insight into the guidance distributed within the corporation, which includes the following:
- Related links matter: They are part of the value you add to your story – take them seriously and do them well; always provide the link to the source of your story when you can; if you mention or quote other publications, newspapers, websites – link to them; you can, where appropriate, deep-link; that is, link to the specific, relevant page of a website.
- Where we have previously copied PDFs (for full versions of official reports and documents, for example) and put them on our own servers, we should now consider in each case whether to simply link to PDFs in their native location – with the proviso that if it’s likely to be a popular story, we may need to let the site know of possible increased demand.
“On linking to science papers in particular,” Steve continues,
“we don’t currently have a specific policy, but the simplest principle would seem to be that we should find and provide the most relevant and useful links at time of writing, wherever they are – whether it’s an abstract of a scientific paper, the paper itself, or a journal.
“There is some devil in the detail as far as this goes, though. First and foremost, we’re often reporting a story before the full paper has been published, so there may not yet be a full document to link to; some journals are subscription-only; some have web addresses which might expire.”
The post ends with a series of specific questions about how the BBC should link, from what types of links are most valuable, to where they should be placed, to what they should do about linking to scientific papers and information behind paywalls.
The comments so far are worth reading too, raising as they do recurring issues around ethics (do you link to a far-right political party?) and, in one case, seeing linking as part of “this internal destruction of the BBC, linking out shouldn’t be featured at all”.
It’s a debate worth having, and Steve and the BBC deserve credit for engaging in it.
A highlight of my recent visit with MA Online Journalism students to the BBC’s user generated content hub was the opportunity to ask this question posed by Andy Mabbett via Twitter: ‘Why don’t you link back to people if they send a picture in?’ (audio embedded above and here).
The UGC Hub’s head, Matthew Eltringham, gave this response:
“We credit their picture … we absolutely embrace the principle of linking on and through. I think the question would be – if Andy sends in a picture because he happened to witness a particular event, how relevant is the rest of his content to the audience. I think we’d have to take a view on that.”
It was a highlight because something clicked in my head at this point. You see, we’d spent some of the previous conversation talking about how the UGC hub verifies the reliability of user generated content, and it struck me that this view of the link as content could risk missing a key aspect of linking: context.
In an online environment one of the biggest signals in how we build a picture of the trustworthiness of someone or something is the links surrounding it. Who is that person friends with? What does this website link to? Who gathers here? What do they say? What else does this person do? What is their background, their interests, their beliefs?
All of this is invaluable context to us as users, not just the BBC.
Curators of context
And on this front, the corporation appears to have an enormous culture shift on its hands – a shift that it has been pushing in public for years, with varying degrees of success in different parts of the organisation.
BBC Radio, and many BBC TV programmes, for example, use users’ pictures and tweets and link and credit as a matter of course, while some parts of BBC News do link directly to research papers.
Yesterday I blogged about the frustration of Ben Goldacre at the refusal of parts of the BBC News website to deep link to scientific journal articles. In the comments to Ben’s post, ‘Gimpy’ says that the journalist quoted by Goldacre told him in “early 2008″ that linking was “something which must be reviewed”.
In May 2008 the BBC Trust said linking needed major improvements, and in October 2008 the Head of Multimedia said linking to external websites was a vital part of its future.
And this month, the corporation’s latest strategic review pledges:
“to “turn the site into a window on the web” by providing at least one external link on every page and doubling monthly ‘click-throughs’ to external sites: “making the best of what is available elsewhere online an integral part of the BBC’s offer to audiences”.”
Most recently, this week the BBC’s announcement of 25% cuts to its online spend motivated Erik Huggers to make this statement at a DTG conference:
“Why can’t we find a way to take all that traffic and help share it with other public service broadcasters and with other public bodies so that if our boat rises on the tide, everyone’s boat rises on the tide?
“Rather than trying to keep all that traffic inside the BBC’s domain we’re going to link out very aggressively and help other organisations pull their way up on the back of the investments that the BBC has made in this area.”
To be fair, unlike other media organisations, at least the BBC is talking about doing something about linking (and if you want to nag them, here’s their latest consultation).
But please, enough talk already. Auntie, give us the context.
Jane Ashley of the website’s health team, says that when they write an article based on scientific research:
“It is our policy to link to the journal rather than the article itself. This is because sometimes links to articles don’t work or change, and sometimes the journals need people to register or pay.”
In email correspondence defending their policy, Richard Warry, Assistant editor, Specialist journalism, adds:
“Many papers are available on the web via subscription only, while others give only an Abstract summary. In these instances, the vast majority of our readers would not be able to read the full papers, without paying for access, even if we provided the relevant link.”
This just doesn’t stand up. Here’s why:
- An abstract alone is actually very useful in providing more context than a journal homepage provides
- It also provides useful text that can be used to either find another version of the paper (for example on the author’s or a conference website),
- It provides extra details on the authors, giving you more insight into the research’s reliability and also an avenue should you want to approach them to get hold of the paper.
- Even for the ‘vast majority’ who cannot pay for access to the paper, they will still be taken to the journal homepage anyway.
- Believing that the time spent pasting one link rather than another is better spent on providing “authoritative, accurate and attractive reportage” is a false economy. Authoritative, accurate and attractive coverage relies at least in part in allowing users to point out issues with scientific research or its reporting.
- Catering for a ‘vast majority’ belies a broadcast media mindset that treats users as passive consumers. The minority of users who can access those papers can actually be key contributors to a collaborative journalism process. If you let them.
If it helps, here’s a broadcast analogy: imagine producing a TV package which captions a source as ‘Someone from the Bank of England’. That’s not saving time for good journalism – it’s just bad journalism.
Linking – and deep linking in particular – are basic elements of online journalism. Why can news organisations still not get this right? More on this here…
Q. How can publishers compete with zero-cost base community developed and run sites?
They can’t – and they shouldn’t. When it comes to the web, the value lies in the network, not in the content. Look at the biggest web success story: Google. Google’s value – contrary to the opinion of AP or Rupert Murdoch or the PCC – is not in its content. It is in its connections; its links; its network. You don’t go to Google to read; you go there to find. The same is true of so many things on the internet. One of the problems for publishers is that people use the web as a communications channel first, as a tool second, and as a destination after that. The successful operations understand the other two uses and work on those by forging partnerships, and linking, linking, linking. Continue reading
This week the UK government released a report into social mobility. While mainstream reporting focused mainly on the broad picture, I wanted to read the original government report itself. Which publishers linked to it?
- The Telegraph: fail. Not one of the 4 articles I could find linked to the report.
- The Times: fail. Alan Milburn’s own piece about the report fails to link to it. These articles don’t either.
- The Independent: fail, despite having more articles on the issue than other websites.
- The BBC: links very clearly to both a summary (PDF) and the whole report (PDF). Curiously, however, both are hosted on the BBC’s own site.
- Sky: fail. Oh, and an appalling search facility – top result for a search on ‘Milburn Report’? From 2002.
- ITN: fail.
- Reuters: fail.
- Channel 4 News: no link on the video report, but there is a link below a line at the end of this story. You have to scroll to see it. Although it’s labelled as an ‘external link’ the PDFs are hosted on C4′s own site.
- The Guardian: mixed. This article didn’t and nor did this; but this one did – albeit in par 5, three pars after the report is first mentioned. Notably, 2 pieces on their blogging platform Comment is Free did - both in the first paragraph, no less, and to the Cabinet Office version.
I’ve written and spoken extensively on the importance of linking, but it comes down to 2 core reasons:
Firstly, Google will rank a page more highly if it includes more outgoing links.
Secondly, people will return to your site more often if they know they can expect useful links.
So, get your act together, please what are news organisations doing to address this?
Do you have a link problem? You can handle linking. It’s just one post/article/page without a link. You can link whenever you want to. Or can you?
Where are you on this scale …? (Originally posted here.)
1 Don’t link to anyone
Link to other sites? But people will leave my site. They won’t click on my ads. They won’t read other pages. I’ll leak page rank. No way.
2 Add URLs but don’t make them hyperlinks
OK, that’s a bit ridiculous. If I’m talking about other organisations, I can’t pretend they don’t have a website. I know, I’ll put web addresses in. But i won’t make them hyperlinks. Brilliant, yes?
3 Add an ‘external links’ box
Even I’m finding that no hyperlink thing annoying when I go back to an old page and have to copy and paste the damn things.
4 Put some links in the copy
I don’t seem to be getting many inbound links. I guess I’m not playing fair. I know, I’ll sort out my workflow so that it’s possible to add links easily inside the actual copy. But I’m still not passing any pagerank. I’m going to put “rel=nofollow” on every link.
5 Give my users some google juice
6 Link when I have to. And remove nofollow and any other annoying tricks
That seemed to make everyone happier. There are a few proper links on my pages. And people seem to want to link to me now that I’m playing fair with my links.
7 Acknowledge my sources
Oops. Spoke to soon. Been outed as pinching someone else’s idea and not attributing it. From now on, I’m going to make sure I always link to everyone I should.
8 Enlightenment: Make linking part & parcel of what I do
Internet. Inter as in inter-connected. Net as in network.
I get it now. I’m going to become a trusted source for information and advice, AND of what else people should read elsewhere on the internet. Blimey, more and more people are visiting my site and linking to it. Continue reading
Demonstrating once again why journalists should not only blog but monitor incoming links, the BBC’s response to the recent story about ‘holding back Google juice’ in its linking came to my attention as I was scanning the incoming links to this blog. John O’Donovan, Chief Architect, BBC FM&T Journalism, says “nothing sinister”, and: