This is a blog post I wrote March 5, 2008, on my Training Tracks blog at the American Press Institute. The original is no longer online, but I’m resurrecting this because Elaine Clisham referred to it on Twitter yesterday, prompting my post this morning about why linking is good journalism. I have not checked the links to see if they are still good. Given the topic, I think I should leave them in this piece either way.
Some questions about journalism innovation stump me. This one didn’t.
A person who’s trying to help journalists move into the digital world was trying to persuade some newspaper editors and writers to “build credibility with their users by having the courage to send users elsewhere for info when they can’t meet the need.” The editors were appalled and asked for “hard data to take home to convince their legacy managers this is a good idea.”
You want hard data? Here’s some hard data: Google.
This need by too many journalists and newspaper executives to control how our audience spends their time is laughable except that it’s so maddening. Our users control how they spend their time. They always did and they always will. We need to give them value and links have value.
This fear that people will never return to our site if we send them away becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Refuse to give them what they need and they will go away in frustration rather than because they clicked a helpful link. If they click a helpful link and find the answer they were looking for or some information that helps them understand your story better, they will remember that you provided the answer, even if it came from someone else. And they will come back to you for more answers.
Google has become synonymous with innovation and lucrative business success in the web age. And it just drives newspaper executives nuts because Google doesn’t provide actual content. It just provides links. Are you starting to understand? Links have value – value of Googlenormous proportions. (I thought maybe I invented that word, but I just Googled it and found three links. See, I didn’t worry that you wouldn’t come back to finish this blog).
So get over your need to keep control of your users and provide them some value.
This is especially maddening to hear these concerns about keeping users on our sites right now when so many news organizations are cutting the staffs that provide original content.
Yes, by all means, you should provide lots of content and provide as many answers and as many dimensions to stories and other types of content as possible. Use multimedia, databases, polls, source documents and the whole digital toolbox to keep users on your site as long as your content interests them. But you can’t provide all the answers or cover all the angles, especially not after you bought out so many experienced content providers.
So provide links. Provide value.
Speaking of links, here are some (go ahead, leave the API site if you want; I’ll trust you to come back):
Darren Rowse on ProBlogger addresses the question, “Do Outbound Links Matter for SEO (and more)” (that’s search-engine optimization, if you’re still catching up on web jargon, and that means you’ll get some of that traffic from Google links).
Scott Karp on Publish 2.0 writes on “Reinventing Journalism on the Web: Links as News, Links as Reporting” and subsequent posts, “How Networked Link Journalism Can Give Journalists Collectively the Power of Google and Digg” (there’s Google again) and “How Link Journalism Could Have Transformed The New York Times Reporting on McCain Ethics.”
Yoni Greenbaum’s “editor on the verge” blog addresses links in at least two posts, “Same old content doesn’t cut it for online readers” and “Don’t let your lack of time hurt your readers” (this one addresses that issue of not having the staff to provide all the answers).