Link Journalism: Is Linking to News a form of Journalism?

Scott Karp attempted to coin a new term on his Publishing2 blog today: link journalism. “Link journalism is linking to other reporting on the web to enhance, complement, source, or add more context to a journalist’s original reporting,” he wrote. Links as journalism is something that Karp has been writing about recently; it ties into new media and citizen journalism, and it is something that we think warrants a closer look.

Karp was inspired by something the New York Times’ public editor said in his reproval of the paper’s recent hit piece on Senator John McCain. Karp zeroed in on the Times’ ombudsman’s assertion that that McCain story had mostly been reported over the years, but that readers could still benefit from a retelling of the facts to “help voters in 2008 better understand the John McCain who might be their next president.”

What better way to pull together the bits of a story has has been “reported over the years” than by using links to the actual reporting, asked Karp. The traditional media method would be to summarize the previous reporting, said Karp, “but on the web, with its infinite space and connectedness, the Times could have added an important supplement to their own perspective” by linking.

Unfortunately, a quick search through Google News archives reveals that much of the important historical content is stuck behind pay walls — the rationale being that old news doesn’t get enough page views to monetize with advertising and is only of value to people researching a story, who are likely willing to pay for access. But as the New York Times’ public editor pointed out, sometimes historical context is helpful. But is framing significant historical reporting around current events and using links to the actual reporting to build a readable trail really journalism?


The Drudge Report, seen here in 2006, has been doing ‘link journalism’ for over a decade.

This sort of reporting is something that bloggers and others on the web have been doing for years. One of the best known examples is The Drudge Report, which has been putting out link-based reporting since the mid-90s. By organizing links to other original reporting, Matt Drudge has really pioneered a type of online news that is something like the web-based equivalent of a paper that carries only wire stories, and does no original reporting.

The Drudge Report and other so-called link blogs, are really a subset of edited news aggregation, which has a great signal to noise ratio. Because the content is being vetted by an editor, readers can assume that they’re being directed only to relevant, non-redundant reporting (assuming they trust the editor). Link journalism is also something citizen journalists do a lot of, as when we share links via Google Reader like Robert Scoble, or via del.icio.us like Jemima Kiss. Bloggers and citizen journalists have long recognized the value of the link as a way to add context for readers and reinforce the points we make in our posts.

According to Wikipedia, “Journalism is the discipline of gathering, writing and reporting news, and broadly it includes the process of editing and presenting the news articles.” Karp’s link journalism falls at least into the “gathering” and “editing” pieces of that. It’s certainly not on the same level as original reporting — which link journalism relies on completely — but it does have an important place, and I hope newspapers are listening to Karp’s call to tear down pay walls and start recycling relevant historical content by utilizing links. And not just to their own reporting, but to any reporting that could add value for the reader.

There is, of course, one major hurdle in the way of convincing newspapers that this is a smart thing to do: the mainstream press doesn’t like to send people away from their web sites. To that, Karp responds, “Just remember Google’s law of links on the web — the better job you do at sending people away, the more they come back.”

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