I was traveling yesterday, so I came in late to a discussion about outbound links. A tweet from Elaine Clisham brought the discussion to my attention:
Actually, it was about four years ago, I think. But thanks for remembering, Elaine. Alas, that blog post for the American Press Institute, where Elaine and I were colleagues, is no longer available online. I will try to find it somewhere and resurrect it for archival purposes. (Update: I found and reposted my 2008 post: Google doesn’t fear outbound links; neither should you.) I don’t have time to pull in all the tweets of a really long Twitter discussion, but Mathew Ingram curated some of them in a blog post asking, “Is linking polite, or is it a core value of journalism?“, prompted by MG Siegler’s rant about the Wall Street Journal’s refusal to link when he beat them on a story for TechCrunch.
If you’re interested in the discussion that followed that post, check yesterday’s tweets by Mathew, Charles Arthur and Caitlin Fitzsimmons and this 2010 post by Jonathan Stray. Update: A comment below points out this piece by Felix Salmon that covers linking and attribution at length. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s well argued and reasonable.
This tweet from Fitzsimmons seems representative of the linking-is-just-a-courtesy viewpoint:
My contribution will be these four reasons why linking is good journalism (which may somewhat echo Jonathan’s and Mathew’s posts, because they are both right):
- Honesty is good journalism. If you weren’t first with a story, or a piece of a story, someone will have read the first one. Even if you independently verified every fact in your own piece, linking shows the readers who saw both pieces that you are honest, acknowledging the work that came before and not pretending to be first.
- Transparency is good journalism. Some readers want to see your work, and reading that other piece was part of your work, whether it guided your reporting or whether you were racing along the same path and the other reporter beat you to publication. As Brian Boyer and Matt Thompson like to say, “Show your work.”
- Attribution is good journalism. Often a journalist is actually relying on the work of another journalist. If you are quoting or paraphrasing another journalist’s work, attribute by name and link. Ethical journalism is more than just avoiding plagiarism. In digital journalism, attribution is incomplete without a link.
- Context is good journalism. Rare is the story or blog post that tells everything you could possibly want to know about the subject at hand. Work by other journalists on the topic you are covering provides valuable context for your readers. So link to that work.
Beyond those four reasons, here are two reasons why linking is good business (and if you don’t care about business success, you don’t care about the health of journalism):
- Links help search engines find your work. Relevant links help your content rank higher in search results. Who doesn’t want that?
- Links help interested people find your work. When you link, you increase the likelihood that people with common interests will discover your work through pingbacks, Google alerts and social mentions. Those people will be more likely to link to your work in their own blogs and in social media.
OK, those are the reasons to link to others who have addressed the issues you are covering. About the only reason I have heard not to link:
- I’m stubborn and I refuse to change or learn.