Links in online stories should strike balance between informative and interactive

29 Feb

In the years since Jim Stovall’s “The Art of Linking” was published, journalists’ attitudes toward linking have changed drastically. In his article, Stovall says he doesn’t think journalists are taking advantage of the opportunities for elaboration that linking within stories provides. He says journalists are used to their stories being “autonomous,” and they don’t want to add links that would lead readers away from their stories. Six years later, the debate is whether linking is used too much.

I agree with Stovall that links “tap into the interactivity function of the Web,” and being able to include links to sources and additional information, pictures, video, etc., is the strongest argument for publishing stories online. But there is a line between interactivity and over-activity. Pages of links can be exhausting to look at, and overdoing inline links can be distracting and annoying. Striking a balance between useful and informative can be tricky, but pulling it off is vital for publishing successful stories online.

Links can and should be used to improve reading comprehension. When reporting on a science-heavy topic, for example, reporters can use links to explain complex ideas. The nice thing about reading on the Internet is that if there’s a topic you don’t understand, a Google search can clear up confusion quickly. But journalists should aim to save their readers that step and instead provide them with more information in the form of links within the text so readers don’t wander.

However, external links can be dangerous. Consider, for example, linking to someone’s personal blog. Even though the post you link to is relevant, intelligently written and you think it supports your story well, there is a higher probability for issues to arise because it’s a personal site. It could get hacked, edited, etc., and you may not be aware that it’s happened. It’s important to have guidelines, like the BBC’s, for using external links to prevent mishaps like this from happening and clouding the credibility of your site. Links shouldn’t be used, as the BBC says, to promote commercial products in exchange for money, and they should be accurate, relevant and suitable for the intended audience (something The Miami Herald failed to check out before linking to an adult film star’s porn website in a 2010 story. Oops.)

In this New York Times story about mainstream media linking to each others’ sites, Scott Karp, chief of Publish2, makes an excellent point about why it’s OK to link to other sites from your own. He says Google is a great example of why “link journalism,” a term he coined, is effective. “It’s all about sending people away, and it does such a good job of it that people keep coming back for more,” he said. If readers know your stories reliably provide links to other sources of useful, pertinent information, they will most likely come to you first to see what your site can provide them.

Dossier of group members (Posting as a link to Dropbox because it contains personal information of others)

It was easier than I thought it would be to put together many pieces of my group members’ lives using only Google. I expected to have to wade through lots of junk right off the bat to get to relevant links, but I was pretty lucky. I didn’t search just their names; I put the words “Gainesville” or “University of Florida” after both to narrow the search right off the bat.

They both had their personal websites (blogs) and social media accounts clearly labeled with their names, so those rose to the top of the search results. Tyler’s name (Tyler Parks) gave me some trouble because of his last name — I got a lot of results for local nature attractions and theme parks in the area. Emily’s name (Emily Burmaster) is more unique, and it produced many more relevant results in the first two pages of links. I saw a lot more results for sporting competitions she’s participated in than I listed here; there were many.

I logged out of my Facebook to do these searches, so I used only what I could find publicly. Emily’s Facebook page did not show up in a Google search, so her privacy settings must be pretty high. However, Tyler’s did, and I got some personal information (likes and dislikes, favorites, etc.) from it.

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One Response to “Links in online stories should strike balance between informative and interactive”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    EXCELLENT – WELL THOUGHT OUT – ALSO GOOD GOOGLE SEARCH – YOU THINK LIKE A SEARCHER WITH KEY WORDS AND NARROWERS

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