Thursday 14 May 2009

Why journalists must understand 'link journalism'

A while back Scott Karp visited the BBC. In some senses it was a sales pitch for his Publish 2 project. But more importantly he came to talk about his vision for 'link journalism' and much of what appears below is based on his thinking even if I have been stewing over it for a number of months. In short, this isn't new but I feel like it needs to be said again.

The link and link journalism

The hyperlink has long been recognised as one of the key features of the World Wide Web, so much so that I don't need to waste time explaining its functionality.

However, it's easy to forget that it wasn't immediately quite so obvious back in the early days of the World Wide Web, and the development of blogging was an important step in the increased use of hyperlinks.

In fact, there was a whole market for a site that actually used hyperlinks to keep sending people away from a website in a useful manner. A market that was almost entirely swallowed up by Google.

Journalists and media companies were slow to realise the value of the hyperlink because the conventional wisdom was that in order to make revenue from advertising people needed to spend time looking at your site.

What they didn't take into account was the counter-intuitive position that if people are consistently sent to interesting news articles from a media site people will consistently come back to the media website for more of the same.

Unfortunately, journalists were so slow to realise this, (despite the fact that Google was staring them in the face everyday on their computer screens), that they got way behind the game. It's only much more recently that linking out has become a regular feature of many news websites.

But journalists are still not making the most of link journalism. Because the practice of providing links for their readers is not fully integrated into their work processes and websites still don't offer spaces for journalists to display their links.

At the Frontline website we have a space for our bloggers (box, top right of the page) to share the links that we are reading. This provides Frontline Club readers with a highly editorialised and specialised 'best-of-the-web'.

If you want to know which articles to read on front line journalism then this is one of the best places to find a regular supply of information, without you having to do any of the hard work.

This is an example of link journalism, which I believe adds value to the website.

Why journalists don't do link journalism

In order for this to take place, bloggers have to be saving links and an editor has to publish them. When I talk about this idea with people, there are various objections from journalists.

First, saving links is not part of many journalists existing work practices. And yes, it does take a little time to set up something like delicious - about 5 minutes, and saving bookmarks can be time-consuming if you become addicted to it, but saving three a day can't take longer than 5 minutes even if you're technologically inept. And you might need a producer/editor to put them together, but there are some of those in media organisations, right?

Second, journalists still don't want to share stuff on the Web. I understand that if you are doing an investigation for an exclusive story you might not want to share links. Fine. I'm not asking people to be stupid with what they share - I don't share all of my links.

But if you save an article to Delicious, for example, from the Washington Post it's kind of out there already. Some journalists might be concerned that saving links reveals the sources they read. And it will do. But then surely this sort of transparency might be something to aspire to rather than shirk from.

Third, journalists think it's a waste of time or not journalism at all. When in fact, it's no different to what journalists have always done. Journalists have always tried to collect information and decide what people should know.

This model has been broken down by the Web because anybody can now recommend information through websites such as Digg. I think this is a positive development because it removes power from journalists. Why should journalists be the only people who decide what is important?

But on the other hand, most people still respect journalists' attempts to make sense of the world on their behalf by sorting through information. Because they don't have time to do that themselves all the time. In this sense, journalists add value to society and it's nothing new - it's a process that has been going on since journalism began.

Why journalists should be doing more link journalism

On the World Wide Web, we are presented with an extraordinary amount of information. I would suggest that helping other people to navigate that information is part of the journalist's duty. (In the BBC's case, part of its remit is being a 'trusted guide to the Web'.)

And if you provide a way for people to access the most relevant, and interesting material on a regular basis then I suggest that people will consistently come back to your website, because a highly specialised, hopefully expert, and ultimately human selection method will have many advantages over Google News and news aggregators.

In addition, if journalists are more pro-active in linking to valuable content then these pages will climb search rankings.

I suggest therefore that journalists must understand the value of link journalism. Many still don't.


Anonymous said...

Nothing I disagree with in there Daniel.

I should add that on we originally had an unfiltered group wire fed trhough from a Frontline Club we had set up on I was never happy with this as some off topic links found their way onto the site. The fact that Ma.gnolia died just as we started to make the site live prompted me to do what I really wanted to do in the first place and use

If you save a link for:frontlineclub in it comes to me as an RSS feed and if appropriate, I can add it to the frontline newswire. I think it nis vital you have an editor running this for content and style. A freeflow of unedited links, even from journalists, is not quite as useful as a feed filtered and edited, IMO.

Publish2 is an excellent tool and I want to develop how we use it much further. My thoughts on that are over here:

I love the way you can editorialise a link for different destinations at the same time. Just wish they had an iPhone app :(

BTW - I'm putting together a workshop on link journalism for BBC CoJo. Not sure it'll go ahead, but I'll keep you posted if it does.

Daniel Bennett said...

I agree on the advantages of filtering and editing. We've noticed this with breaking news information too which quickly becomes overwhelmed with redundant material.

Brenda Bell said...

Looking at this from training in science/engineering (rather than journalism), links in the body to the appropriate resources act analogously to a bibliography, lending credence to the author's text. What I find in writing for specific communities and sites are editorial instructions to never link to an external site if any of its services overlap with or compete with the concern for which I am writing. The unlinked or oblique references require the reader to either make the effort to look up the reference, or to accept my words "on faith". I do not trust this as a reader -- why should I expect any less of my own readers?

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