UPDATE: The BBC have started a debate on the issue on their Editors’ Blog
Ben Goldacre is experiencing understandable frustration with the BBC’s policy on linking to science papers:
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…