Wick Communications

The missing link

In Online media on March 16, 2012 at 8:21 am

Film poster from "The Missing Link."

Most of my posts on The Kicker include a hyperlink to some other resource that I’m mentioning. Why do I do that? Well, because I think it’s an easy way to give readers access to more information, should they want it, and to be transparent, to acknowledge that I don’t get my ideas out of thin air.

To link or not to link has become a hot topic in the digital journalism community. Jonathan Stray gives four good reasons for linking to other sources of information. I can agree with all of them and would say that the ability to tell richer stories in a succinct way is perhaps the most compelling reason of all.

However, some in the community aren’t so sure. They worry that these links send your readers to other sites. It’s clear that you want to invite readers into your site, but why would you open the door for them to leave?

And when is a link necessary? If you wanted to, you could put a dozen links in just about every story. For example, a story about a robbery of a local convenience store could link back to the Sheriff’s Office, the chain that runs the convenience store, the clerk’s blog, the jail, the county you live in and the website for Tic Tacs, which the thief stole on the way out. (Hey, I didn’t even know they made Tic Tacs any more!) …

I think that would be a mess of blue hyperlinks and that it isn’t necessary. I think facts don’t require links. I would seek some happy medium. So what to link?

  • Attribution: If you are basing a story off something you read elsewhere, as I am here, I would include the link (as I did above.)
  • Documentation: If you can include evidence – particularly government documents that illuminate the subject of your story – I would link to that. Hopefully, you are already regularly including links to pdfs documents with your stories.

One last thought: Do you have to link to a competitor if said competitor had the story first? In other words, if you read about the convenience store heist in a local blog first, should you link to that story? Well… I might not. Then again, I might. If it were something I would have found and reported from the police blotter anyway, I probably wouldn’t. Facts are facts and aren’t “owned” by any of us. On the other hand, if your reporting came about solely because of the original reporting of competitor, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that. There is nothing new in that. Famously, the New York Times found itself mentioning the Washington Post reporting a lot during Watergate.

If you aren’t already doing some linking online, I think you should. It gives readers a fuller understanding of your stories.

Clay

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