Online media outlets like Slate or Salon prominently feature their links to other sites and some, particularly blogs, are built around the strength of their links. But newspapers have been reluctant to direct readers outside their own gates. These deals with Inform are but one indication that newspapers may be reconsidering long-held beliefs about how to compete, and cooperate, with other publishers.
“Five years ago, everybody said you have to keep readers on your site, with no links out to other sites,” said Caroline H. Little, chief executive and publisher of… the online division of the Washington Post Company. “But ultimately, people will go where they want to go.”
“To the extent we can provide them more Washington Post video or more information from around the Web, we’re all for it,” Ms. Little added. “And we get the benefit of that, too, because we get a lot of referrals from the Web, also.”
As evidence of the new outward linking of news sites, the article points out that:
"The Washington Post, The New York Sun and The Daily Oklahoman, in Oklahoma City, have contracted with an online news aggregator, Inform.com, to scan hundreds of news and blog sites and deliver content related to articles appearing on their Web sites, regardless of who published those articles. Links to those articles will appear in a box beside the site’s original article or within the text of the story."
Yep, that’s the same Washington Post that’s already got deals with technorati to supply links to "related blog content", blogburst, who syndicate actual content from blogs, and del.icio.us which caters to the site’s social bookmarking needs.
So why is the Washington Post suddenly so keen on spreading all that link love around? WashingtonPost.com Executive Editor Jim Brady told Jeff Jarvis recently that one-third of the referrals to washingtonpost.com now come through blogs. The easist way to get bloggers to link to you? Link to them, of course. (I’ve recently posted other thoughts on why news and media organisations might want to link to bloggers and other "citizen journalists" here.)
So now that we know why, how’s it going to work? I had a look at the website for inform and found an online presentation that demonstrates how it all works and it’s quite similar to the model I’ve been talking about here. They appear to have developed systems that take various content feeds, match them up with the publisher’s website content, then they’re system automatically embeds "smartlinks" along with video, audio, blogs and other links – whatever the publisher chooses – straight into the page. I’m going to keep my eye on this one…
(I spotted the NY Times article in Dan Gillmor’s post ‘A Duh Moment for Newspapers" – thanks Dan!)
[Link update 02 Aug. 2006: TechCrunch tried it out and "didn’t see a lot of relevant content" whilst Business 2.0 thinks teaming up with inform will help newspapers fight off the challenge of Digg, Google and others.]