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How to give value even to the expert reader when rehashing an old story

I was intrigued to see some of my tidbits from my reporting trip to Iceland dance into the latter part of this story in The Independent last month.

Now, I'm fully aware what a confounding place the internet can be, indeed the world is full of people who will eagerly tell you that, just like Iceland, the World Wide Web is a nobody-knows-who-owns-what-kind-of-place. Nor am I foolish enough to believe I own the facts, it would be a sad testament to my reporting if nobody found use for it or found it interesting enough to repeat.

My bigger argument here is the lack of links, this silly pretence of exclusivity. As an increasing amount of people spend an ever increasing amount of their time online, where linking to your sources is common practice everywhere except in certain newspapers with online editions, this practice of omitting links to sources comes across as increasingly bizarre and dishonest - as Judith also pointed out a while back.

This particular article is a great example of an aggregated story: for those who've followed the story the only thing that's new here are the sound bites, though even they cover old territory. However, it's safe to assume it's new for a large portion of The Independent's audience.

But adding links would have meant that even the more than usually interested and informed readers could have found value in the article by being able to go to the sources. Yes, I have a vested interest here, but it's not only that parts of the story sounds like it comes from my hands: here's a story I'm genuinely in interested in, and by providing links to her sources the journalist could provide me, the expert reader, with value.

I don't think there's anything wrong with aggregating a story, it can be an excellent way of giving value to your readers, but by not linking in today's transparent world you just come across as disingenuous, certainly to readers who have a bit more than a rudimentary knowledge of the subject at hand. And frequently, because British newspapers are serving an international audience, readers do have more than rudimentary knowledge of such issues. Certainly, with the staggering loss of faith in Icelandic media, I wouldn't be surprised if many of the Icelandic turned to international media for news on Baugur, Landsbanki etc.

Now, for the record I should say that I really like The Independent's Business section, where this story appeared. I have enjoyed much of its Baugur coverage. Besides, in my book, the newspaper frequently hides its best media stories there. That might reveal my own preferences of course, I'd take media M&As and -financial results, over celebrity news any old day - but it's still one of my favourite business sections. Also, I'm fully aware that linking policies often are beyond the individual journalist's, and even editor's, control, this was just such a good example of how news sites can serve their readers so much better by linking to their sources.

Update 14:20 CET: Bonus link,"Why won't news sites link" from Tim Windsor/Nieman Journalism Lab via @nedregotten on Twitter.


I started a list a while back of sites that don't link out fairly. I pretty soon gave up on it as there were so many! But I had a list of newspaper ones at the bottom: http://www.malcolmcoles.co.uk/blog/worst-offenders-sites-that-accept-links-but-dont-link-back-out-fairly/

I suspect part of the problem is not just the wish not to reveal copying or keep people on site. It'll be the effort required to add links to something that was orginally created, checked, edited etc for print ... Some of my examples were them actively encouraging readers to go to sites (EG give to charity) but they still weren't links!

Well, I've worked in newsrooms were linking was frowned upon because supposedly it gave the desk guys who published all the stories extra work - a funny kind of reasoning if you ask me as I added the links myself (working in Escenic) and it was never a problem when I was on wknd watch and had to do the publishing myself. Admittedly, some content management systems do make linking a bit complicated (and it's about time they were ditched for better, preferably open source solutions), but behind that funny excuse I suspect that old "silo mentality" was lurking: try to make your content "sticky" to keep readers on your site, when you link out you send readers away and loose them. That however, is such an outdated way of thinking, and, with readers increasingly coming to expect links, it's a suicidal mentality to maintain...

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