Why Do Newspapers So Rarely Link Out?

from the good-questions dept

Bijan Sabet is asking a good question. It's one that's been asked plenty of times before, of course, but it remains relevant: why do so few newspapers ever link off of their site? He points to recent articles from the NY Times, the Boston Globe, the LA Times and the SF Chronicle, and notes that none of them have links to outbound sites. Some of this is due to a confused view of the web, that you never want to send people to another site, because (incorrectly) that means fewer page views on your own site. Of course, that ignores the fact that sites like Google have made quite a nice business out of sending people to other sites -- a business those very same newspapers are all quite jealous of. And, it also stems from the old line belief that the job of a newspaper is to tell you "everything you need to know," so why would you ever admit that there may be other sources of value? And, of course, that's why some people are getting sick of newspapers. Plenty of other online sources have learned that linking to others is an important part of the conversation, as is allowing readers/users/community members to explore the story themselves -- and to contribute to it. I still find it amusing when someone follows a link I've posted and then adds some interesting perspective/data point/fact and claims that they've somehow "caught" me making an error. That's part of why I post the links in the first place -- hoping that readers will continue to dig deeper and figure out more of the story and contribute and add to it. It's too bad so few newspapers feel the same way.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    yogi, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 1:00am

    Annoyed

    It really annoys me that on-line papers don't link to relevant articles and sites that they themselves mention in their write-ups.

    If I owned a paper I would even go one step further and intentionally link everything relevant to the article in the article itself and at the bottom of the article.

    That is a service that ads (not a typo) value and in the age of endless information, people who can sift through it all and present me with the most relevant info are providing a very important service.

    It's just amazing that the big papers haven't caught on yet.

     

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  2.  
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    Johanne, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 1:26am

    Re: Why Do Newspapers So Rarely Link Out?

    Good points. But I guess, newspapers have this culture that believe that the news starts and ends with them - they have the authority to determine what's news worthy. Hence, why would they want to link to other sources?

     

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  3.  
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    paspanique, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 2:38am

    Bah, there's only one word for it: Dinosaurs. Just like the entertainment industry. They've been around for so long and think they know what's good for the humanity and are trying to shift the tides around. They think they can impose their view and ways of doing "teh net".

     

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  4.  
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    DJ Science (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 2:44am

    What??

    Comparing the Boston Globe to Google is like comparing Apples to B-52 bombers. News agencies have a vested interest in being the definitive "correct answer", and linking to articles or sites that might have their audience second-guessing them is counter-productive. In a universe like TechDirt, that sort of criticism is productive, whereas in the world of "Pro Media", it is counterproductive.

    Imagine, if you will, NY Times publishes an article about Google's "Monopoly" of the search engine business, linking to several studies and Alexa rankings. However, in the hustle and bustle, they made a tenfold error in the publishing (3.5% becomes 35%). Suddenly, web-savvy people are posting comments like confetti regarding what could easily be passed off as a typo or calculation error. This is something that is easily addressed and corrected in an online-only source (someone notices the error and it is corrected), however in a source that is published in many ways, around the globe (print, radio, online), it's a bit harder to "reign in" what might be as simple as missing a decimal on a calculator.

    "Big Journalism" has a vested interest in always being 100% correct, so to actively link to sources that may or may not reveal a discrepancy is not in their best interest.

    As an example, look at the turmoil caused by the article saying that HD DVDs had a higher saturation rate than Blu-Rays, because they neglected to factor in PS3 sales (arguably the best-selling and most-used Blu-Ray player on the market)

     

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  5.  
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    Gunnar, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 2:51am

    At our paper, it's because the antiquated system we use to write stories and the antiquated system our network uses to post those stories to the net can't incorporate links. So if we want links, we have to go in through the dashboard, which is an absurdly slow process.

    So our options are to tack a "box" of websites at the end of the story with links that have to be copy/pasted into the address bar or spending 20 minutes navigating the dashboard.

     

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  6.  
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    Tim | TechFruit, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 3:17am

    This is why the BBC and The Guardian are two of the old media properties that have gained a good online presence. The BBC actively tries to find external links for most of its articles, and The Guardian certainly has no issue linking to outside sites.

     

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  7.  
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    BobinBaltimore (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 3:54am

    Yep

    Completely agree. Those that do (WSJ, Guardian, Times UK, etc) are increasingly a part of a lot of people's reading. WSJ does a very good job, as well, including linking to related stories on competitors sites and providing primary source documents when appropriate. The only issue I have with this post is the use of Google as an example of how linking works for sites. Again, using an extreme example to define a rule is folly. Google isn't in the "news" business and doesn't create content, so their needs and goals are largely different, and their scale is certainly different. A better example would have been Drudge or Guardian or WSJ.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 4:28am

    Simpler explanation

    I think this is less evil than you think.

    Most of the systems these papers have are designed to take copy, format it for printing in the newspaper, then pass it along to the website. If you want to add in all the hyperlinks, you need to manually edit it after it's published, and then hope that there are no changes in the original that cause your edits to be clobbered. The systems aren't designed to handle this elegantly.

    This is solvable by building a better system, but no CFO is going to approve that project when there's *no* revenue tied to it.

    Don't jump to evil when IT and Finance is the more likely answer.

     

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  9.  
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    Paul, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 4:47am

    One of the really, really, really annoying..

    ...things they DON'T do is link to an original document, when they're reporting about it.

    For example, headline: "Report sez Canada is the worst place in the world for Movie Piracy".

    "Really?, I think to myself. So, I have to read the article, find a quote lifted from the report, do a Google search of the string (filetype:PDF), and find the report online, so I can read it.

    ps.: OK, I know why they don't provide links to the actual documents in online articles. They don't want us to read 'em. That way, we won't be able to say "Hey, that's not what the report says! This reporter's a tool!"

    pps.: Gee, I wonder why people aren't reading newspapers...

     

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  10.  
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    Comboman, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 4:56am

    not just external links

    Few newspaper web sites even have internal links (e.g. This is a follow-up article to _THIS_ article from last week). I've always found it annoying (especially when the text refers to a previous article but doesn't link to it) but I always assumed it's because hyperlinking is not how newspaper writers are taught to think.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 6:13am

    Evil

    >>Don't jump to evil when IT and Finance is the more likely answer.

    Any combination of Finance with another department is, by definition, evil.

     

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  12.  
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    Jason Nelson (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 7:02am

    Re: Simpler explanation

    Interestingly, I read your post to be one of expressing the evil of MSM and corporations/collections.

    The argument presented is simply the internal capital and IT investment process of any company. And if newspapers are being held back by the CFO and a lack a vision/strategic planning, they will be held to account by the shareholders.

    Seriously, a business case is simply an argument. If a company cannot determine the value of engaging and interacting with their EXISTING customers, they should try something else--like landscaping. But first, I'd still suggest they outsource their Marketing & Sales departments: customers don't seem to be their niche.

     

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  13.  
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    Jack Lail, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 8:26am

    Linking out at news sites

    We link out quite a bit at the Knoxville News Sentinel. We often create online "articles" that are sets of external links using the dead simple tool Publish2.com.

    "Link curating" as it's being called is a significant way to offer readers "new content."

    There are some examples of what we're doing at

    http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/jack-lail/

    and

    http://www.govolsxtra.com/staff/jack-lail/

    and

    http://www.knoxville.com/staff/jack-lail/

     

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  14.  
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    Lucy, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 8:39am

    Research before you write

    What a lazy blog post. Did you ask a newspaper site editor why they actually don't link out? (If you did, you would have included that in your post, no?)

    I was at a meeting of a few newspaper site editors who don't link out because they don't want to be seen as endorsing the credibility of the link's destination. They say this was based on actual user feedback. Fair to say that users who think that a newspaper, or any site, should be accountable for the information in external links probably shouldn't be using the Internet at all. And site editors should ignore them.

    But don't post such blatant speculation to promote your assumption that 'newspapers are dinosaurs'. And what newspaper in their right mind is jealous of Google? Sure, maybe they're jealous of the money Google makes, but Google has nothing to do with news.

    Your entire post was just one big uninformed cliche. Try to add some value next time.

     

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  15.  
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    josh (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 10:14am

    Re: Research before you write

    Wait a minute. The editors don't want to be seen as endorsing the credibility of the link, but they want us to believe that all of the information they used is credible? There's something wrong with that.

    In College, we are told to include all of our source information when we write papers. The reason for this is because the Instructor needs to validate the CREDIBILITY of our source. Could you imagine if we tried to use an argument like that editor?

    “Well, see her Prof. I didn't tell you the source for that info because I didn't want to be responsible for its credibility.” The professor would so laugh you out of class.

     

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  16.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 10:38am

    Re: Research before you write

    What a lazy blog post. Did you ask a newspaper site editor why they actually don't link out? (If you did, you would have included that in your post, no?)

    Are you new here? I make no claims to be a reporter. I write my opinion based on what information is there, and then we expect people to add more to it in the comments. It's a conversation, not journalism.

    When you have a conversation with someone and they say something, do you criticize them for not having spoken to everyone before speaking to you?

    I was at a meeting of a few newspaper site editors who don't link out because they don't want to be seen as endorsing the credibility of the link's destination. They say this was based on actual user feedback. Fair to say that users who think that a newspaper, or any site, should be accountable for the information in external links probably shouldn't be using the Internet at all. And site editors should ignore them.

    See? You just added something to the conversation.

    But don't post such blatant speculation to promote your assumption that 'newspapers are dinosaurs'. And what newspaper in their right mind is jealous of Google? Sure, maybe they're jealous of the money Google makes, but Google has nothing to do with news.

    I gave my opinion, and now we're discussing it. I'm not sure why some people get so angry at me for giving an opinion.

     

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  17.  
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    nasch (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 10:42am

    Re: What??

    To think that those errors will never come out as long as they don't link to other sources just shows further misunderstanding of the world we live in. They have two choices. One, be transparent and allow their community to interact with them and correct oversights and mistakes. Two, pretend they're perfect, don't link to anyone, and don't listen to their readers, and watch their readers become former readers. Looks like many are choosing 2.

     

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  18.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Annoyed

    They just dont want you fact checking the stuff they didnt fact check themselves .... BIG Ole GRIN

     

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  19.  
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    Fiercedeity (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 2:50pm

    Re: What??

    Not including PS3's was not a mistake. They had a reason for doing that, which was that you cannot determine whether or not the PS3 was bought as or is being used as a Blu-Ray player.

     

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  20.  
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    fshope, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 4:37pm

    Re: Re: Research before you write

    I agree (partially) with the original poster. I regularly read Techdirt's articles and rarely comment, but I felt inclined to since the basis of this post strikes me as off-center.

    My first thought about linking to an outside source is the reliability of the link. If the link were to a 3rd-rate website that can't handle the traffic, several thousand hits would push it offline. Bad for both parties. I see this all the time with links posted on Slashdot and 4chan - often by the time I get around to reading the 3rd party info, the articles have been pushed offline by too many hits.

    Then, if the source were able to handle the traffic, the paper/journal is still pushing an awful lot of traffic to the 3rd site that most likely would not have gone there otherwise. This is good for the site owner, if they advertise - but can cause a lot of misleading data. It could also be misconstrued as "favoritism" or "support" if the 3rd party site in question is referenced often.

    All that said, I'm sure it does happen that editors or writers don't want to reveal their sources for fear of scrutiny. I wouldn't necessarily say that's the primary or only reason, however.

    I read a lot on Wikipedia and find news or current events there whenever possible for just this reason - I want to get background on the story and see a story compiled from several sources, which few places save Wikipedia offer.

     

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  21.  
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    Mike Liveright (profile), Jun 25th, 2009 @ 9:26am

    At least link to the source material

    I agree with the general feeling that the best way to get people to read the NewsPaper material is to provide them with links to the source material. When a paper writes "A report says ..." they should follow the statement with a "WEBrite" symbol (w), that shows there is a link on the WEB copy of the article to the main source.

    In addition, I'd like

    1) well designed threaded comment area that would allow valued comments and

    2) a BLOG headline list that would allow any blOG entry that talked about the article to be added, by the author, and sorted by popularity,

    so that we could go the the WEB copy of the article, follow the source links and benefit from the WEB wisdom.

     

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  22.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Jun 25th, 2009 @ 10:48am

    Court Decisions for One

    I just ran across a case (pun) where linking out by the newspapers is a must. Fortunately for me, the Washington Post provided a link to the Supreme Court's decision.

    Supreme Court Rules School's Strip Search of Girl Was Illegal.

    My interest in this is that the strip searching of your packets on the internet by ISPs on the pretense of trying to find contraband should also be considered illegal based on this case.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2009 @ 3:46pm

    Isn't there a very simple explanation? Newspapers still write for a print medium, where outbound links have little value because they can't be conveniently followed. Their websites consist largely of repurposed content from their print editions. Hence the paucity of links, other than the internal ones they create when they webify the content.

     

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  24.  
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    Adi @ The Management Blog, Sep 2nd, 2009 @ 8:37am

    arcane

    It is incredibly frustrating. I've seen some papers even include our url but without hyperlinking it up. It's crazy and does drive me mad.

     

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