If a mainstream media outlet like the Wall Street Journal fails to link to a blog that broke the news they reported hours later, is that just a lack of courtesy or something more serious? The bottom line is that linking is about building trust.


Late last week, TechCrunch writer MG Siegler broke the news that Apple was buying an app-discovery service called Chomp — although he didn’t say where that news came from, just that it was a reliable source. The Wall Street Journal reported the same news several hours later, confirmed by an Apple source, but didn’t link to Siegler, who then wrote a profanity-laced tirade criticizing the WSJ for its failure to include a link to him in its story (we at GigaOM, meanwhile, wrote about why the acquisition made sense for Apple, and credited TechCrunch with breaking the story).

I’ve argued before that I think this failure to link is a crucial mistake that mainstream media outlets make, and also an issue of trust: since the Journal must know that at least some people saw the Siegler post, why not link to it? The only possible reason — apart from simply forgetting to do so — is that the paper would rather try to pretend that it was the first to know this information (and it also apparently has a policy of not linking if a WSJ reporter can independently confirm the news).

Is that the right way to operate online? I would argue that it is not, especially in an environment where trust matters more than so-called “scoops.” I think that is the kind of world we are operating in now, since the half-life of the scoop is so short. But if scoops don’t matter, then why should it matter if the WSJ credits Siegler or not? I think that failure to link decreases the trust readers have, because it suggests (or tries to imply) that the outlet in question came by the information independently when they did not.

On Saturday morning, after I saw someone on Twitter post a link to the Siegler rant again, I advanced my theory that links are more than just the polite thing to do, and here’s a Storify version of the discussion that followed.

Did this discussion solve the question of linking? Not really. But it highlighted for me how much debate there is even within a relatively small group of writers — all of whom are familiar with the web — when it comes to how and when links are required. I still believe that the obsession with “scoops” is misguided, and so is the attempt to pretend that you were the first to report that news when you actually saw it somewhere else, which is what a failure to link feels like. Perhaps many readers won’t care — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important principle that is worth upholding.

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  1. Marshall Kirkpatrick Saturday, February 25, 2012

    Failure to link on the WWW is sociopathic, imho.

    1. I assume that journalists who have worked in old-school media outlets forever wouldn’t even consider linking, much less consider it a must-do. I imagine their editors would probably strip it out even if they included a link. It’s not terribly common for print publications to credit other print pubs (or broadcast media) for breaking a story, for example.

      Given that, it doesn’t make sense to lambast a single reporter for following long-held procedures. If bloggers and new media journalists want mainstream journalists to adhere to blogging protocols (which are rather new in the grand scheme of things and still evolving), it seems like they’ll need to do a better job of infiltrating and persuading the professional news media that they are also journalists and linking is the new norm.

      Is this a topic regularly discussed at conferences for journalists? Is this covered in text books used in J-schools? Is this a procedure discussed in corporate guidelines for news organizations? Short of that, I can’t imagine this is going to change anytime soon.

      1. Carri, that’s a really interesting perspective. Surely though the web has now been around for long enough and the importance of linking is clear enough that journalists need to be responsible for figuring this out regardless of what they were taught in school. The web and world are changing fast enough that I would think our learning needs to adapt accordingly. But maybe I’m wrong and change is slower than I and others would like.

      2. “I assume that journalists who have worked in old-school media outlets forever wouldn’t even consider linking, much less consider it a must-do.”

        Thanks for not bothering to research the assertion, even though there are tons of “journalists who have worked in old-school media” around on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere. But hey, that’s the difference between just listening your inner prejudice and **finding stuff out**. For info: it varies a lot, but the most important thing for a journalist is to get it right. Personally, I’ve written scripts (I know! Programs!) which will do searches so I can add links in stories. Shocking, eh?

  2. No need for WSJ to have linked if they got the scoop themselves.

    1. That’s exactly my point — if they were confirming something they saw elsewhere, which it seems they were, then they absolutely should have linked.

      1. how do you know that they were confirming something they saw elsewhere? What if they already knew about the rumor/potential deal but were waiting for more information before publishing?

      2. “Which it seems they were” is the point of contention here.

  3. Reblogged this on quickgamer88.

  4. Two of Mat’s paraphrases of my position in this conversation are wrong — actually the opposite of what I’ve said. I do not think and never said that “linking is not that big of a deal” or that “linking wasn’t a matter of trust, but simply a feature that some stories might have and others might not.”

    What I said, exactly, is here: https://twitter.com/#!/tcarmody/status/173485006012956673

    “Transparency — true transparency — does more for trust than linking. Linking is a tiny, tiny piece.”

    If that’s not 100% clear, I mean that neither linking nor disclosure are identical with transparency. I also think that transparency isn’t the sine qua non of credibility.

    I’ve written extensively about this, including several dozen tweets about this subject in the past few days that (as noted above) Mat has favorited or retweeted.

    I find this mischaracterization of what I thought was a sincere and open conversation very disappointing.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Tim — and it was a very thoughtful and sincere conversation, which is why I felt compelled to do this in the first place, to Storify it and share it with others who might not have seen it. I’m sorry if I paraphrased your position badly, or misrepresented it in some way — I assure you that wasn’t my intention at all.

      1. Transparency rules, and I agree with linking is only a small but required journalistic tactic. Not linking reveals either a. petty modus operandi, or b. anachronistic obliviousness to how the web works and how journalists need to behave in this day and age. I wrote a piece about the print/news industry that appeared on TechCrunch yesterday, and journalistic transparency is one of the most important and easiest things for media companies to engender. http://techcrunch.com/2012/02/25/print-is-dead-long-live-print/

  5. the “scoop” concept is soooo old-paradigm … based in ego only.

    linking is the reality of now, we are all connected, get used to it.

    but PLEASE, i am so effing TIRED of me-too journalism!! STOP it, NOW!

    me-too journalism is a DISEASE!

    thanks in advance.

  6. Its not against the rules to scream in another golfer’s ear while he is about to tee off… But it is rude.

  7. I’ve complained publicly about “journalists” not linking back to me and I have to say, this story reeks of “new media” inferiority complex.
    So…a blogger posts a story as soon as he learns about it (true or not). The Wall Street Journal posts essentially the same story but a few hours later — after they’ve confirmed it by the actual company (Apple). Seems to me this isn’t about any silly “should we link or not” notion but yet another example of “old media” actually getting us verifiable truth.
    Short version: 0 points for rushing to say something online you think is correct. +1 for doing the actual leg work, even if it means a shocking 2+ hour time difference.
    Bloggers aren’t journalists and if they’re not going to do the work of journalists shouldn’t demand the same respect.

    1. You missed the point entirely. You are saying on one hand that traditional news is journalism because they verify facts, but on the other hand they didn’t generate the news. So which are they fact checkers or news journalists?

      In this era people much closer to the source of news have the ability to come straight out with it. The news is necessarily two tiered. On one side you have bloggers who have an audience that reads their stories and must understand that they are not always fully fact check, and treat it more like rumors or salient facts; on the other side you have large media where they are “slow moving” and come to a story after it broke, and then verify and publish it.

      So the question is when a story breaks, is it necessary to link to the location it broke? I would say from a fact checking, sourcing, and transparency sense it absolutely is. Putting the journalism aspects to the side and looking at the biproduct of journalism, conversation, it is absolutely important to the conversation around the story to link to the site that broke the story.

      1. Great points, David — thanks for the comment.

      2. Nope. Go back and re-read my comment. Link to the story if that’s your source. In this case, it was not. WSJ did the real work and told us, the readers, of Apple’s *confirmed* purchase of Chomp. A blogger who says ‘Apple buys Chomp’, a few hours earlier, but offers no evidence (other than their word) is borderline irrelevant — particularly in this case when there’s nothing you or I can do about it (e.g. buy/sell $AAPL on the news, seek another partner). If bloggers want link backs they need to be more than people who rush to post rumors online. This is especially true in the start-up world when being *first* is rarely a guarantee of success.

    2. Thank you, Brian Hall, for injecting simple common sense to this thread. The story’s lead graph says the TechCrunch journo “broke the story” based on a reliable source. Why assume the same source didn’t contact the WSJ. It’s not illogical the larger the news org, the longer the lead time to get the story checked and posted. They’re actually responsible, disciplined journalists. Bloggers are … bloggers, which rhymes with blathers — for good reason.

  8. Aren’t journalists paid so we don’t have to read Twitter debates?

  9. Linking to sources is an old school blogging tradition that journalists have never consistently followed and bloggers mostly don’t either anymore, especially in competitive fields like tech blogging and hip hop blogging.

    I rarely see major tech blogs link to each other but they write about the same things all the time and it goes beyond stories which grew out of everybody getting the same press release. I know they’re all watching each other yet they rarely name each other as sources.

    Hip hop blogging went through a period where a few of us kept a lot of people in line but it eventually disintegrated when it got too big to be a community.

    But I think it would be great if journalists could be publicly shamed into acknowledging where stories broke. So please keep it up!

  10. With all due respect to a long and heated public debate, it’s pretty obvious to any working journalist why their first impulse – if they’re working for traditional media — is to make a story their own or as much their own as possible. That’s what our bosses are paying for! I’ve worked for three major dailies and I can’t see many editors being thrilled to see a story filed that credits other writers with having gotten there before you did; where’s the value you’ve added?

    I am not in any way espousing the notion of stealing others’ work nor evading giving them credit. But insisting on it at all times and in all places ignores how journalism has worked for a very long time. Few ambitious journalists are going to worry more whether others like them than if they are pleasing their employer.

    1. That’s why when journalists try to act like they’re superior to bloggers I just have to laugh.

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