Linking: Why link?

28 Feb

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

There is a columnist who writes for The Star-Banner in Ocala who includes links in his columns, professor Edward Weston said. People send him hate mail, saying the links are annoying. His response is he puts them there for people who want to know more. Reader’s disapproval stems from the fact that this is an older, more traditional audience that does not like links.

Why should links be used in journalism? According to Jim Stovall, “links tap into the interactivity function of the web, allowing the users to have some control over what they see and how they navigate through the information that the journalist is providing.”

He said the knowledge required to add a link is minimal HTML, hypertext mark-up language. “The tag for linking is <a href=> followed by the web address of the information or page you want to link to,” he said.

Stovall continued: “This should be placed before the word or words that will appear as the link on the web page. Immediately after those words should be an end tag, in this case </a>. That’s it. That is all the technical expertise that is required.”

Professor Ronald Yaros of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism did a study where it was proven that stories with the links to explanatory text did best as far as readership goes. And not just any links were good; traditional links were the best.

According to the Editor’s Weblog website, linking provides collaboration in news. “Link or sink” is the philosophy. Linking also serves to promote and publicize.

Ryan Sholin said journalists link to provide readers with as much information at their fingertips, to be ethical and to connect to different aspects of the community, whether it be other businesses, news outlets, government institutions or organizations.

Josh Korr expands on the idea by saying that you do not overwhelm the reader by aggregating and providing links, but instead you give them a choice. If they choose to click, they are given more information.

It is key, Scott Rosenberg said, to remember that reporting is not finding links, and that original reporting does have its advantages. Linking is not a call to abandon all that is traditional or original in journalism. It is a call to expand beyond that.

Salon editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman said the time it takes to aggregate really well is still time away from original reporting. “It’s kind of the worst of both worlds,” Lauerman said. “You’re spending a lot of time on someone else’s work. You’re more motivated when you’re pursuing your own work.”

The BBC, for example, has guidelines to linking. Links should be relevant, maintained, suitable for the audience and accurate.

Journalists should be cautious in the way they link to stories. The Miami Herald learned about this the hard way when its software linked to a pornography website mentioned in the story published.

Other disadvantages can be that links lead readers to other websites and they may find an outlet they like a lot more than yours. Also, linking can create a conflict when it comes to objectivity. Perhaps certain links would reveal a journalist or organization’s inclinations or leanings.

According to Robert Niles, journalists are now becoming advocates for something, instead of remaining unbiased. Linking would, perhaps, add to this dilemma. There needs to be a fairness in linking.

Though linking must be done with caution and it does not substitute reporting, it is necessary in online journalism. It provides more to those who choose to go beyond what is given, which creates and rewards a more educated readership.

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