I remain an optimist that newspapers aren’t dying. But if they die, the cause of death will be suicide, not that the evil Internet killed them.
Hyperlinks are not a matter of life or death, even in the digital age. But failure to adapt can kill your business, or an entire industry, and hyperlinks are a key illustration of newspapers’ failure and unwillingness to adapt.
Shan Wang of the Nieman Lab addressed the issue of linking in a post yesterday (I did too; we were both responding to a post on linking by Margaret Sullivan, New York Times Public Editor).
This passage from Wang’s post was a facepalm moment for me that just illustrates how slow, reluctant and stupid newspapers have been in adapting to the challenges and opportunities of digital media:
For professional newsrooms, settling on the “right” standards for linking out can be a bit of a tug-of-war between the culture of web-based writing (which strongly encourages it), a news site’s desire to keep reader traffic within its site, and in some cases the constraints of a janky CMS.
Wang cited a 2013 study of linking by Mark Coddington that found “that clunky content management systems built primarily to produce a print newspaper were also a hindrance to adopting more widespread linking practices.”
I hardly know where to start in this smorgasbord of stubbornness and stupidity, so I’ll take the points in order:
The reasons to link are not just a “culture of web-based writing.” Repeating what I wrote more than three years ago, linking is good business for two important reasons:
- Links help search engines help people find your work.
- Links help interested people find your work.
Go to the link above for elaboration, but as long as your financial success is based even a little bit on digital traffic, you have two much better reasons than culture to link.
The same post also gave four reasons that linking is good journalism (we still care about that, right?):
Again, read the old post for details or read yesterday’s for an explanation of why linking is a matter of journalism ethics. This is not about culture, people. It’s about good business, good journalism and journalism ethics. If you don’t care about those things, go find something else to read, because that’s what I blog about.
(Pausing to take a deep breath and calm down. A little.)
Keeping traffic on your site
” … a news site’s desire to keep reader traffic within its site.” Look, I’m no analytics expert. But every news site in the business has data showing that most of your visitors spend about 15 seconds on your site anyway. It’s not links that are sending them away. It’s boring content, busy lives and backward thinking (like refusing to link to relevant sources).
Yes, it was great when people would browse the morning newspaper over coffee for 20 minutes or more or spend an hour or so with the Sunday paper. But even then they read other things: books, magazines, other newspapers, newsletters, billboards. They watched TV. You can’t control people’s eyeballs. Your market is people who like to read. And people who like to read like multiple sources of reading material.
The backward keep-them-on-the-site thinking still shockingly prevails in too many newsrooms. The only way to keep them on your site is to provide compelling content. Even then, they’re going to leave your site. Give them a reason to come back.
Content management systems
“… the constraints of janky … clunky content management systems built primarily to produce a print newspaper.”
(More deep breaths.)
Businesses choose technology to meet their priorities. Newspapers have janky, clunky, outdated, print-first CMS’s because they have janky, clunky, outdated, print-first businesses. They would have good digital-first tools if they made it a priority. How many newspaper companies that still use janky, clunky CMS’s built new multimillion-dollar presses since we already could see that this digital thing was going to be kinda big? I worked for two and know of more.
But a janky, clunky CMS is no excuse for failing to link. You can add links in any CMS that I know of. It may take a few more minutes, but we take a few more minutes to do the other tasks of good journalism: verifying facts, writing good leads, cultivating sources, contacting people for response if a story will criticize them. Can you imagine accepting weak excuses for failing to do any of those things?
The hyperlink is more than 20 years old. Newspapers have been declining for 10 years, if not more. It’s way past time to stop making excuses and figure out the link, newspapers.
Update: I meant to include these tweets about the discussion, responding to my tweet about the Nieman post and to this post itself:
— Susie Cambria (@susiecambria) July 23, 2015
— Cheryl Rofer (@cherylrofer) July 23, 2015
— Christoph Trappe (@CTrappe) July 23, 2015
— Christoph Trappe (@CTrappe) July 23, 2015