Links Are The New Attribution

This is part of a series on how to Be a Better Journo. It’s intended to shame my colleagues in the blogosphere, solicit ideas from my peers on how we can all improve, and help guide noobs and youngsters into creating better digital journalism. [tweetmeme source=”jolieodell” only_single=false]

You shady-ass bitches have not been linking back.

Having been in at least 2 of the top 3 tech newsrooms, I can tell you that nothing chaps an editor’s heiny like breaking a story and not having his competitors link back, even when they pull facts and quotations from the original story like free-to-a-good-home puppies out of a cardboard box.

In journalism school — y’all went to J-school, right? — we were taught that every fact and opinion had to be attributed to someone.

Back in the pre-digital day, journos were simply the mouthpieces of truth. If you wanted to convey emotion or opinion, you either had to find a reputable source to say it, or you’d better get your ass over to the op/ed page. And if you wanted to tell just the facts, you’d better be prepared to have an expert tell them to you first. So, every quotation, every factoid, every bullet point had to be “according to” some report or said/admitted/confessed by some relevant public figure. As cleanliness is next to godliness, so attribution is next to objectivity; it is the one factor that keeps the Fourth Estate just pure enough to credibly tell all sides of the story.

These days, with the way that SEO and user traffic work, the way we attribute is through links. When you report on a study, you link back to the study, so’s people know you’re not just making shit up. When you quote a CEO, you link to the video/press release the quotation came from, unless it was given to you directly, in which case you note that, as well.

And when you take information from another journalist’s report, you jolly well link back to that report, too.

There are multiple reasons this is in your best interest, the first being that it saves you from looking like a story-scamming scumbag. Second, it saves you in the event of a retraction, in which case you can point a finger and say your source was wrong. Third, especially in the case of opinion and speculation, it allows you to maintain at least a modicum of objectivity. As in, “I’m objective, but Kara Swisher said these guys are doomed to failure by patent infringement lawsuit.”

And finally, it’s fair and right, which is the only reason you should need in the first place.

Worst case scenario: Users click the link and navigate away from your precious website. Oh no! Use the right HTML tags, dumbtard, and they’ll look at the original report in a new tab without navigating away from your story. Besides, your content should be compelling enough to keep the reader coming back anyhow, right?

Other worst case scenario: Your readers will realize that your story is not original reporting. Well fucking duh. Of course it’s not original reporting. Almost nothing is. Unless you’re Barbara Fucking Walters, you’re not really going to get the story straight from the horse’s mouth. Readers will likely understand this and accept it as long as you can make your story worth reading in some other way. Otherwise, you might want to find a new profession.

Link love is contagious. If you do it to others, they’ll do it to you. Eventually. Just don’t screw around with nofollow tags, because that makes you look like a stingy, Page Rank-obsessed douchebag.

If you want to be a better journo, link back.

image credit: Dr. Macro

15 thoughts on “Links Are The New Attribution

  1. “Worst case scenario: Users click the link and navigate away from your precious website. Oh no! Use the right HTML tags, dumbtard, and they’ll look at the original report in a new tab without navigating away from your story.”

    Lol! I think the older generation of journalists will have difficult comprehending this. But then again, in most new organizations, they are not the ones uploading/writing web content.

    You’re spot on Jolie. Links make attribution easier. And they can do no harm from an SEO perspective. Many people don’t understand that Google uses links pointing to other websites as a factor for ranking content — if you don’t have any, that means less ranking control. I have found that the more information you give Google, the better. And there are always the advantages of trackbacks and pingbacks. Plus, as you mentioned, it’s only ethical.

    Thanks for the very funny, lighthearted tech-journo-tip post. You should do posts like these more often!

  2. Actually — I just checked out some of your recent posts. It looks like you’ve got tech-journo tips coming out the wazoo over the past week. Must be the work of your new summer intern🙂.

  3. Love it. I couldn’t agree with you more. Not that I have anything worth stealing, but Twitter is just link, link, link. After having just given this some quick thought. I am going to link to the original site and just the one person that brought it to my attention. The other middle men that funneled the information that trickled down to me and the first person to recommend the story get screwed out of recognition, but so be it.

    This story is similar to the AP Newswire making their flap earlier this week about hot news and not getting revenue for their content because others were giving it out for free. http://thepriorart.typepad.com/the_prior_art/2009/02/associated-press-v-ahn-court-upholds-hot-news-doctrine.html Brought to my attention on Tech News Today podcast.

  4. Ah, in my rush to comment. Like a BAD journalist I didn’t make sure I had all my facts in order. First part of my post still stands second part is a dated story, but an active one as more lawsuits over hot news keep popping up.

    The one referred to on Tech News Today podcast was Barclays v. TheFlyOnTheWall.com

  5. Jolie,

    Great post. For all the content on the web, you definitely don’t hear enough about attribution.

    Think Twitter has helped remind people about attribution and its karmic value on the web.

    It’s really a bummer that straight-up plagiarism is a foreign concept to some lovely amoral people. They obviously missed that episode of their favorite situation comedy. jk

    -Chris Ehrlich

  6. target=”_blank” does not validate in XHTML strict.😉 Use JavaScript. If you’re begging to use jQuery for this simple task, use this glorious pure JavaScript code:

    (function() {
    var links = document.getElementsByTagName(‘a’);
    for(i = 0; i < links.length; i++) {
    if(links[i].getAttribute('class').indexOf('target-blank') != -1) {
    links[i].setAttribute('target', '_blank');
    }
    }
    });

    Then you give all your links that need new-window-linking a class of 'target-blank'.

    It's hackish, but it validates.

    P.S. I'm not sure this code works in everything. JavaScript is fun like that.

  7. This is a pretty good point, and something that a lot of new organizations right now are failing to do. Some extremely shady ones that love to steal from AFP and Xinhua come to mind. Damn…shady…fakejournalists.

  8. Your readers will realize that your story is not original reporting. Well fucking duh. Of course it’s not original reporting. Almost nothing is. Unless you’re Barbara Fucking Walters, you’re not really going to get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

    Erm, um, actually I deal with thousands of Barbara Walterses, in that case, reporters from news organizations all over the world who manage to *both* get the story straight from the horse’s mouth AND link to complementary research, documents, competitor’s news stories where they add new information, etc.

    We call it “reporting” most of the time. Perhaps you and I run in different circles?
    🙂

    • Yeah, that’s the kind of journalism I was raised to do!

      I think bloggers in particular just run on a very, wildly different schedule/news cycle. Since everything is so accelerated, the folks in online journalism very often don’t get direct quotations or do interviews. That’s just one of the ways the industry is changing, whether for the better (people get news far faster) or for the worse (the quality of reporting is degraded).

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