A few days ago, I was browsing Twitter when I saw a tweet from Roll Call’s politics editor Shira Center come through my feed. In it, she made a request that I’ve found increasingly common in the journalism world: that a reporter credit another reporter’s work with a link:
In this case, BuzzFeed reporter Adrian Carrasquillo had actually credited Roll Call but had neglected to include a link (he later updated the piece to include link credit). I’ll give Carrasquillo the benefit of the doubt that his omission wasn’t deliberate, but the incident made me think about the inconsistent linking practices of mainstream news sites, and how even in 2015 it’s still not commonly accepted within the industry that news articles should regularly link to outside sources.
To illustrate this inconsistency, I visited the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today and began opening articles at random to see how quickly I could find three articles at each newspaper that didn’t include a single link to an outside website (I didn’t include internal links). For every newspaper, I stumbled across an article here or there that included links, but for the most part the articles I opened didn’t carry any (New York Times: 1, 2, 3; Washington Post: 1, 2, 3; USA Today: 1, 2, 3).
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It’s not that these newspapers and other traditional publications like them never include links, it’s just that their application is inconsistent. Based on my own experience having worked at national publications, I know that whether to include a link was often up to the discretion of the writer, not the editor. So some writers, usually the younger ones, included links all the time while other reporters almost never used them.
There’s also a print vs web mentality. If a New York Times article is scheduled for the print edition then it’s far less likely to include a link than if it’s published on a Times blog. I don’t know if this is out of a desire for consistency or just plain laziness of not wanting to make an alternate version.
It seems clear by now that links are considered a form of currency, not only for short-term traffic referrals but also SEO. Given our current obsession with plagiarism and giving proper credit (which reached its apogee with a Gawker tell-all about the Daily Mail’s questionable practices), it seems we should seriously consider whether proper credit exists without a hyperlink. Most traditional publications produce documents that lay out “house style” and all sorts of proper procedures for editing and publishing. It seems evident that it’s past time for these style books to be updated to include a publication’s official policy on linking to sources. Otherwise Twitter will just become clogged with reporters begging their colleagues for much-deserved credit.
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