Why can’t newspapers get linking right?

Most newspapers have had websites for a decade now. They’ve gone from shovelling print content onto a webpage to hosting video bulletins and podcasts, blogs and galleries, and even social networking.

And yet they still can’t seem to get one thing right: linking.

Take one basic story from this weekend that’s very close to my heart: the resignation of Bolton Wanderers boss Sam Allardyce. The club announced the resignation on Sunday afternoon with two statements: one from the chairman, and one from Sam himself. The coverage in most newspaper websites at the time consisted, essentially, of extracts from those statements plus a little history from the journalist. It was clear there was no extra information to be had.

In a story like this – bread-and-butter press release/statement material that fills a large proportion of newspapers and news websites – you would expect a link to the original material. Yes..? Well here’s a rundown:

So much for the new transparency in online journalism. So much for linking to your sources – or, indeed, to anything outside of your own site. So much for Jeff Jarvis’ column this week that argues “during big news stories … the role of the journalist now [is] to link, it seems.”

Linking is, of course, central to the web. It is the point. There was a period, years ago, when some website owners were afraid of including external links because they feared people would leave their site. Then they realised that links are a selling point of your site: your ability to provide helpful links elsewhere is part of what brings people to your site in the first place.

It’s one of the reasons blogs are so popular: they link profusely, habitually, and easily. And people come back again and again for more.

So please, stop pretending you’re some great newshound with access to the chairman and manager of Bolton Wanderers. You read the statements on a website we can all access. Save us the trip to Google and give us the links, please. Then we might just come back next time for more.

15 thoughts on “Why can’t newspapers get linking right?

  1. Dominic Deeson

    Nationals think they will lose credibility with readers if everyone knew that they use much the same sources of original information as everyone else. Yes, individual reporters do have their ‘contacts’ and so-called ‘deep throats’ that they can call upon to provide an ‘unnamed source’ quote (anonymous sources do even more to damage a reporter’s credibility, in my view), but the everyday truth is that national journalists have to get information and reference material from the same places as the rest of us. Intelligent information gathering and reporting is not a mysterious ‘black art’, it’s good journalism. Don’t be afraid to tell your readers where you got your information.

  2. Ryan Sholin

    Everyone reads too much into this. Newspapers don’t link because they use big clunky content management systems that pull content out of the stream headed for their print editions.

    Adding links after the fact is easy, if you have the manpower and the will (many don’t have the first, fewer are short on the second), but getting the links into the text at the reporter’s level requires a touch of development, and sometimes that’s just too much of a barrier to get over.

    What can be done? Buy a better CMS, such as Ellington, or another Python-based solution like Zope.

    The common belief that newspapers don’t want to link is red herring.

  3. Pingback: Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Tuesday’s squibs

  4. Pete Ashton

    “The common belief that newspapers don’t want to link is red herring.”

    Maybe so, but the habit seems hard to break when it comes to material written purely for the web such as newspaper blogs. Either they have no links at all or they get an intern to google for random things just to satisfy a link count. Or so it seems.

    A compromise for “normal” journalism might be to slot to reference links at the bottom of the piece, rather like the BBC News site does in the sidebar, only a little more useful that that.

  5. angela

    It’s so easy to learn how to create a link, and execs should make it mandatory for reporters to do it. There’s really no excuse.

    It’s a better-than-nothing solution putting them in a sidebar or footer. That doesn’t serve the reader most. It’s easier to make the word in the story a link…Then if they decide they want more info they don’t need to go searching for the link somewhere else.

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  8. Craig

    “It’s so easy to learn how to create a link, and execs should make it mandatory for reporters to do it. There’s really no excuse.”

    If you can teach a cat to enjoy swimming, that will be the day that most journalists will learn how to do HTML.

    Only when it starts tap-dancing the national anthem on the top of the water will the execs even understand what you’re talking about.

    Although several generations of geeks like us takes this stuff for granted, no-one else remotely cares.

  9. Pingback: Content Syndicate » Blog Archive » To link or not to link..?

  10. Ryan Sholin

    Creating a link in HTML is easy enough, of course, yes, but where exactly in the content management system that your reporters deal with 8-12 hours a day does that happen?

    I’ve seen systems where writers can include a list of links that end up in a sidebar or footer, and that’s certainly the least common denominator, assuming you have enough human staff to paste those into the right places.

    It’s simply not as easy as it should be in most newspaper CMS software. We should improve it, and soon.

  11. Pingback: links for 2007-05-04 « David Black

  12. Dre

    Maybe that’s the reason why so many people are looking at us crazy folks trying to create online news sites. Sites like mine, The Terminal, an upstart by comparison, or Gapers Block are trying our best to link to the source when possible. This is despite the fact that many of the links are just to the story on the news site.

    I was lucky enough to recently get my hands on a digital copy of the official documentthat was the focus of this story about our council finally passing an inclusion resolution. While everybody else was concerned about getting the councilor’s reaction to getting it passed, I figured it might be nice to actually show people exactly what had been passed since it had been altered.

    People were grateful, but since we’re still so young, it’s still going to be a while before I can tell if people appreciate it or if they even care most times.

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  14. Mike Bazelewick

    We recently launched an offline to Internet keyword link system that is a perfect application for newspapers. All the newspaper has to do is add a keyword input box on their website (only a couple lines of code) Then the print edition tags stories and pictures for direct access to the additional online information. Often a newspaper will run a link such as: mypaper.com/citynews … the information might be there today, but if I am reading a day old edition, the information has probably been moved elsewhere. With a keyword link directly to the correct online page a newspaper turns into a real internet portal … the newspaper industry moves at glacial speed and we have been banging our heads trying to get these people to see the light … we can even show them how to monetize with link sponsors. Newspapers could even provide keywords for advertisers to use in their print ads. Makes too much sense … we think so. If anyone has any suggestions, contact me through http://www.frapple.com


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