On the wall in front of me is a big sign that says ‘LINK!’. Underneath, in brackets, it says “It’s what we do”.
It really is. One of my tasks at the BBC is gathering links about what is being written about the BBC’s internet endeavours and rounding them all up into neat little posts. The result of the linking? We get more readers. Loads more.
Another part of my job is preparing guest posts. Before Christmas, I posted this tutorial by Andy Quested on how to use the HD test screen. Today, a couple of weeks later, the story has gone around the newspapers and blogs. Not sure why it took so long, but there you go.
Anyway, I wanted to share how by not linking, sites can really fail in a basic fundamental of reporting: providing information.
Take the treatment of the story on the Independent.
“The famous BBC test card featuring a girl playing noughts and crosses with a toy clown has made a return to the nation’s television screens.
The image is being broadcast on the BBC’s high definition (HD) channel to help viewers set up their HD TV sets.”
That’s the opening two paras, but that’s the sum of the information given. What channels? What time? How do I use the test screen to fix it? How do I need to know if it needs fixing anyway?
No worry, though, because they can solve all that by linking to our post. We know they have read it — as they’ve lifted quotes directly from it.
But there’s no link.
The Daily Mail does it a little better. They don’t link either, but they at least gave us the chance to add the link into the comments of the story. “Find out how to use the test card here,” wrote my colleague Nick Reynolds. Only problem being that the comment is sat gathering dust in big moderation queue in the sky — and I doubt it’ll see the light of day now. So that’s another failed story that doesn’t offer all the available information to the reader.
Then this blog post turned up. Not only is it the first story (of the ones I’ve seen) which mentions the fact the quotes are from our blog entry, but it’s the only one that provides the link to Andy’s post. The story would be useless without it, after all — but try explaining that logic to the newspapers.
The mentality of the Indy and Mail* is obvious. “Why should we link to our competitors?” they’ll argue. And they’ll agree with themselves, wholeheartedly. “If we link to a story, they’ll leave our site and we’ll lose readers,” they’ll decide, without looking even beginning to consider the facts.
It’s clear that, out of my three examples, the best piece of journalism is from the blog. It provides more information, cites its sources better, and links to the instructions so people can find out how to use the information.
* The ‘Indy and Mail’ sounds like a single newspaper, doesn’t it? Well they are in the same offices now, after all…