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5 reasons that there is value in providing the link

By on Feb 28, 2007 in journalism | 2 comments

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I just spotted a good post over on Buzzmachine where Jarvis pretty much backs up what I’ve been saying here for a long time: If you don’t have the content people are looking for, and someone else does, don’t bother making a second rate attempt to replicate it when you can simply link. Jarvis writes:

Try this on as a new rule for newspapers: Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.

That’s not how newspapers work now. They try to cover everything because they used to have to be all things to all people in their markets. So they had their own reporters replicate the work of other reporters elsewhere so they could say that they did it under their own bylines as a matter of pride and propriety. It’s the way things were done. They also took wire-service copy and reedited it so they could give their audiences the world. But in the age of the link, this is clearly inefficient and unnecessary. You can link to the stories that someone else did and to the rest of the world. And if you do that, it allows you to reallocate your dwindling resources to what matters, which in most cases should be local coverage.

This changes the dynamic of editorial decisions. Instead of saying, “we should have that” (and replicating what is already out there) you say, “what do we do best?” That is, “what is our unique value?” It means that when you sit down to see a story that others have worked on, you should ask, “can we do it better?” If not, then link. And devote your time to what you can do better… That is where the architecture of news must go because links enable it and economics demand it.

I think Jarvis has hit the nail on the head with this one. It’s utter nonsense and counter-productive for news organiations not to link out. Here’s my rationale:

1. News organisations have limited resources, as evidenced by this study that shows that the majority of them get most of their stories from AP and Reuters.

2. If a news outlet doesn’t have the resources to cover something properly, and differently than the next news outlet, then it would be better off simply linking rather than replicating poorly.

3. News consumers don’t want every newspaper, broadcaster and website out there to cover the same exact stories in very similar ways. Sure, we do want to find information about those stories, but the reason we visit a particular website is because there is something unique in the topics it covers or how it covers them.

4. If you can’t provide us with that dose of uniqueness, then providing us with carbon copy coverage of your own does nothing to keep our eyeballs – it merely dilutes the product we’ve come for. Provide the link, however, and the next time I’m looking for information on a story that it’s unlikely you’ll cover, I’ll still visit you first because I know you’ll point me towards someone else’s coverage that is something along the lines of what you would have done if you had been there.

5. And no, I’m not suggesting that news websites try to be google – I want contextualised, hand chosen links that fit the tone and outlook of the website I’m visiting, not something some website spider has turned up.

There is, as ever, value in being the one who provides the link.