Nationals Fail at Attribution & Linking

Why are national media outlets so awful at giving credit?

The (e)Grommet documents a case of the BBC crediting the hosting service, and not the creator. And the Daily Mirror has republished something provided to them by a Travel Weekly journalist as an “exclusive”, without a hint of attribution.

It seems to be one of the major fault lines between traditional media outlets and online publishing – and one that’s only going to get worse.

As Kevin puts it:

As an internet reader, I’m increasingly suspicious of journalists who
don’t link. Yes, if they quote an official that gives me a sense of the
source. But why not link to original source material? It also allows me
to dig more deeply into the story if I want without having to turn to

If many national journalists can’t even handle attributing sources properly, how the hell are they going to get their heads around linking? The answer, based on the current evidence, is that they won’t.
Is there anyone in the traditional media who is actually good at this?

  • In my corner of the world, several big news site either don’t allow linking out, or blame the CMS for making it “impossible” or too tricky to do so. I’ve even worked for sites where linking out was something you could only do by stealth:-) It wouldn’t surprise me if this is still the case for many other online news operations….

    In fact, the freedom to link out was one of the key reasons why I chose my current main employer. A managing editor acquaintance of mine blames the journalists: that it’s a mindshift, and a very difficult one to make for journos who’re used to protecting their “exclusive” leads and contacts as best they can (though the journos he speaks of are news journos, so by nature generalists)… When I hear these kind of arguments, I often find myself wondering about the discrepancy btwn how I constantly was told in journalism school (and before) that flexibility, curiosity etc were key character traits for journos and that the news industry was a dynamic, fast-changing kinda place…. And I went to City, so I don’t think these ways of describing the industry were unique to the school I attended (though when I graduated, in 2002, linking or not was not an issue; our “online course” was called electronic publishing, and.. well, let’s just say it was hardly the place that inspired my enthusiasm for the web, though I’m sure lots of things have changed since then)…

  • Martin

    I agree that journalists should be filtering and pointing the reader to relevant source information. That is the beauy of online and it enables readers to decide how deep they want to go on stories.

    This is one part (or should be) of what journos are paid to do.

    Isn’t there also an issue that nationals will never have the breadth and depth of knowledge to cater for all readers’ needs so they will always need to call on sector/niche/special interest (can’t think of a good name) expertise?

  • Hi, It is growing increasingly strange not to be able to comment on stories or go to their sources. If I’m buying food I want to know where it has come from. If I’m reading a story in a national then, I want to know where that information came from. I can see that in some political and possibly business reporting (and its a tiny minority) that you’d need to protect sources. But for most of the rest of it, not linking to sources is beginning to feel arrogant.

  • Kristine, I know several people who I trust enough to believe that inserting links using their existing CMS is really, really hard. But that’s part of the problem – if they systems that they have discourage linking, people won’t link. It’s symptomatic of the need for a whole corporate mindshift.

  • Martin, yes they do need to call on sector expertise. What bothers me is that they don’t seem to see that attributing (or linking) actually boosts their reliability in the eyes of the audience, not diminishes it.

  • I can vouch for this. In my previous job I worked with precisely such a CMS.

    While not impossible to link out, the process required was so cumbersome and time-consuming that linking came to be considered the sort of non-essential enhancement that the overworked staff would (quite rationally) cut corners on.

    There was no institutional or individual hostility to linking: The site’s previous CMS had had a simple, blog-style backend that made linking very simple, and so it was done fairly routinely, at least by some journalists. There were also blogs where linking was obviously a routine part of the process of posting.

    The good news is that I hear that the latest version of the link-unfriendly CMS package seems to have fixed this design flaw.

    Key lesson for CMS vendors: backend usability matters.

  • It doesn’t require an active hostility though – just the issue being far enough down the priority list that CMS choices are made without an easy linking solution.