Do you remember the first link you published on Internet? It may well have been by using Frontpage or Dreamweaver. Or a text editor in which you were coding in html – those were the days you were wild and crazy. It should come as no surprise that this very simple act – posting a link – became a growing online editorial model.
Links are to Internet what potatoes and mushrooms are to Latvian gastronomy: its quintessential raison d’être. Links are gold and diamonds, structure and tools, brick and mortars. There are no links outside Internet and Internet doesn’t exist without links.
Hence the link journalism for which Wikipedia’s definition goes like this:
« Link Journalism, » a phrase coined by Scott Karp in 2008, is “a form of collaborative journalism in which a news story’s writer provides external links within the story to reporting or other sources on the web.”  These links are meant to complement, enhance, or add context to the original reporting. Jeff Jarvis, from the Graduate School of Journalism’s new media program at the City University of New York, has said that link journalism creates a « new architecture of news. »
“Publish what you chose to publish, link to the rest” – this is the motto of link journalism, a child concept of participative journalism. The idea behind it is to propose a constant flow of information from all possible sources, with the aim of quickly informing via short (also called micro) contents.
Because this is an editorial concept, link journalism differs of its close parent: the automatic aggregation of news by powerful algorithms, à la « Google News » or provided by the living stories tool from Google Lab or even by Google Flip. Notably, link journalism doesn’t propose extract nor original content from the target it links to. It’s all about subjective selection. As Scott Karp phrases it :
“Algorithms can beat humans at comprehensive web search, but humans should be able to beat algorithms at news aggregation.”
Those robots, they’d link anything if you’d let them.
The dogma here states that information has become so abundant, one doesn’t need new information but rather some help to select and propose what is already available. And who could help better than the news professionals who are the journalists, if possibly all rallied behind an emblematic flag of seriousness and quality? The Washington Post believed in the concept so much it created a Political browser in 2008 (not updated since December 2009) to cover the American elections. By acting so, The Post provided a « stamp of approval » to a choice of stories.
« The Post believes, with good reasons, writes Scott Karp, that a lot of people who are interested in political news and in the Post’s political reporting would find it interesting to get « inside the heads » of Post journalists, to see what the are reading and what is informing their reporting. (…) Political browser is about the « news judgement » of Post journalists – and isn’t that, at the end of the day, what reporting and editing have always been about? »
This online editorial model is used by major news actors, from a single form (« editors choice » or « you may also like those » on media websites) to single publishing activity (aaaliens in France). In most of the cases, link journalism is part of the mix of any serious online publisher. But its share of the cake is growing.
A medium of choice for practicing link journalism is, of course, Twitter. I personally follow @Gamdel and his flock of morning link tweets and @florencedesruol who provides me with a constant flow of interesting links throughout the day. There are million of others just doing this. Outside of a formal media organization, link journalism provides journalists (and bloggers and anyone) with a fantastic opportunity to glaze their personal branding.
The strengths of the model
For news consumers, advantages are obvious. They can benefit from a constant review of the web proposed by journalists they trust. In our new Web 2.0 world, they can rate, comment, share all the links. They are not lost on the internet anymore and the flow of information is now manageable – thanks to the link journalists.
This editorial model serves transparency as well: everyone can access journalists’ sources and understand how they write their stories and where they get their information from.
It’s a double-trust bargain.
Journalists, therefore, turn themselves into “labellers” of information. It’s a double-trust bargain. The reader trusts the media in its selection of the most interesting available resources on the Internet and the media trusts the reader he’ll be smart enough to understand and digest the said resource without any further editing or writing from his part – except for a paragraph of comment coming with the link (the famous micro-content) which plays a teasing role.
And for the publishers? Well, live journalism is, somewhow, cheaper than traditional journalism. Less travel, less investigation. Less creativity, as well, in the choice of original angle to cover the same story everyone is running. Just a bunch of Internet-native journalists paired with a good algorithm and your content is produced. It’s also a great addition to their branding.
…and the weaknesses
If media practicing link journalism are your main source of information, you may feel sucked in a vaccuum of news in endless loop. Whatever happens at 17h03 will be sang ad lib by different medias sourcing the same news providers (usually press agencies or major medias) all at the same time, before the stream of pieces of news is replaced by what happens at 17h17. Some call it the « tyranny of urgency » in which the flow kills the context.
Some call it the « tyranny of urgency » in which the flow kills the context.
Similar grief can be heard from journalists. Not only don’t they feel comfortable with sharing their sources (the sources’ protection is a serious business), but they don’t consider this « import-export » kind of journalism (term coined by Bertrand Le Gendre from Le Monde) as real journalism. At best, it’s a nice evolution for librarians, if only they were not busy dusting off their books so Google can scan them.
By resigning their responsibiity to explain, put things in context, confront different points of view without repeating ad nauseam the facts, journalists feel less, well, journalists.
Also, the use of link journalism by media can become a good way to monetize its more expensive content which would only be available to subscribers – and not be linkable any more. The best content with the most added value would now cost something – the ultimate dream for any news providers and the nightmare for most of digital natives. What? To pay for news? Do me a favor, it’s free as birds.
The dark side expressed by link journalism sceptics forcecasts a new age of darkness for the Internet with no original content to link to anymore. Live by the links, die by the links and all that sort of thing.
Could it work for a EU Institution?
Like a consultant told us the other day, one of the gold mines on our website is our content. People would kill for it, he said – believe it or not. As I wrote in the first post of this series, to be a comprehensive gateway to resources of the website is part of our editorial model. Nevertheless, we tend to remain old-fashioned when it comes to our linking policy – we add them as useful complementary information at the bottom of our stories. We promote some of our content via Visuals and Ads on the top page. When there are long breaks, in summer or in Christmas time, we publish special dossiers providing a selection of the best articles we published in the last months, gathered together under subjective topics (Editors’ choice) or practical ones (Best interviews).
We also use our 22 Twitter profiles to link to stories we published or to interesting videos produced by our twin sister team, europarltv. And on this very blog, we use the Asides on the top page to, precisely, provide our readers with interesting links. (Those asides are mostly written by our talented Asta).
And that’s about it.
It would hurt our feelings to promote super good stories that may not fit with our editorial policy.
In the EU blogosphere, talented individuals do practice link journalism. Best example to pop up in my mind would be the Eurobloggers of the Blogging portal. When it comes to institutions, one flaw would be linking to external sources. You see, we’re having so much interesting content no one reads, it would hurt our feelings to promote super good stories that may not fit with our editorial policy. Also, if there is no shortage of interesting content about the European Parliament – or even the European Union, there is a lack of appealing ones, the kind that explains, illustrates, adds context and keys.
In short, the kind we are struggling to produce every day in 22 languages.
On the other hand, I see some space for link journalism applied to our own content (eg linking only to what’s published on our website). One of our main daily burden is, guess what, the time our editors spend writing when they could do so many other interesting things, like going into meeting to thrill at near-death-by-powerpoint-experiences. One possibility we are working on would imply publishing micro-contents on our home page and linking to more detailed documents or Press Releases. We would, of course, keep producing new kind of content I will describe in a coming post. But to add the link journalism model in our editorial mix in an efficient and helpful way, we would need more content to link to available in 22 languages. Press officers reading this post are already buying voodoo dolls to curse me: they see it coming and they don’t have time nor resources to produce everything they do in 22 languages.
If I am dubious about link journalism as the sole editorial production of any organization, I still believe it can spice up an editorial mix. We’ll keep this one on our radar.
This post is part of a series about online editorial models.
Online editorial models #01 – Ours
Online editorial models #02 – Link journalism
Online editorial models #03 – Networked journalism
Online editorial models #04 – Media-enabling journalism aka lol-journalism
Online editorial models #05 – The Huffington Post case
Following articles were of a useful help when writing this post.
Wikipedia – link journalism
Journalisme de liens : le Washington Post s’y met – by narvic on novövision
washingtonpost.com’s Political Browser Uses the News Judgment of Journalists to Filter the Political Web – by Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0
The Political Browser on the Washington Post.
Réflexions en roue libre sur le journalisme de liens – by Samuel Laurent on Suivez le geek.
Google’s living stories
Google’s fast flip
Le Net informe mal, il embrouille – by Bertrand Le Gendre in Le Monde (no link, sorry).