Hyperlinks help online journalism

Some argue links in articles are distracting, but they represent evolution in journalism.


AlbertHongWhenever I tell someone I am majoring in journalism, it’s no surprise anymore to hear people’s thoughts on the industry “dying” or being “in danger.”

But as I learned from many of my classes at Temple, it is really evolving. Publications are increasingly needing to think about their online presence as much as their other platforms. The Internet brings its tools and applications for journalists to use, and one of the most important is the hyperlink.

A hyperlink is anything on a webpage that, when clicked, takes the user to another part of the Internet. We have all seen the use of the hyperlink within articles – the oftentimes blue words or phrases that take us to a different page referring to what was highlighted.

While these links may seem synonymous with articles on the Internet, the journalistic use of them still happens to be contested. At a meeting of the Asian American Journalists Association, I learned from a discussion that some local publications like the Inquirer and Daily News don’t use hyperlinks in their articles, only in their blog posts.

Nicholas Carr, the author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” criticized the hyperlink as being a distraction to readers in the way it spurs unnecessary cognitive activities like “evaluating hyperlinks” or “deciding whether to click.” He argues for the removal of links within articles, citing them as a  problem of having created a culture where “skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought” rather than fully absorbing the information we read.

While I, and many others, cannot argue with the fact that the Internet has certainly changed the ways information is given and taken, it doesn’t mean that “distractions” like hyperlinks should be removed altogether.

George Miller, an associate professor who teaches Journalism & Society and directs Philadelphia Neighborhoods, said that journalists should adapt to the changing landscapes of the industry.

“To me, I think it should impact the way you do journalism,” Miller said.

Students taking the Philadelphia Neighborhoods course are required to use hyperlinks, and Miller uses them in the online version of his quarterly magazine, JUMP Philly. He said the links are there to serve the readers of the site.

“Even in an 800-word story, we can’t be fully comprehensive and your audience is going to want more information,” Miller said. “So as a reader service, you provide them links to learn more about whatever those areas are.”

Scott Rosenberg, a co-founder of Salon.com, wrote on his blog a three-part series defending hyperlinks, stating that comprehensiveness can also help opinion pieces by linking to the writers’ articles of which you are arguing against.

“[Linking] provides a powerful check on bullying and misrepresentation,” Rosenberg wrote. “It’s the rant without links, the disconnected diatribe, that’s suspect.”

Providing transparency not only promotes “honesty and fairness,” but it also allows for the reader to trust you as a writer, by providing instant access to the arguments that you are opposing.

Linking in your articles also provides practical benefits to journalists as well, as Miller explained how search engines like Google determine how often web pages show up in searches, based on algorithms that take outside linking into consideration.

However, Rosenberg also makes a good point when he said, “links, like words, need to be used judiciously” and that “conscious linking” is what journalists need to practice in order to display the effectiveness of the tool.

“Overuse of links is usually a sign that the writer does not know how to link, which on the Web means he does not know how to write,” Rosenberg wrote. “But such abuse hardly discredits linking itself.”

Connecting the local community as a whole is important for Juliana Reyes, the lead reporter for tech site, Technical.ly Philly. She said she uses links to make stories “actionable” – like giving readers information about events or how to RSVP.

She said in the future she feels linking will grow as journalists notice them being used in proactive ways.

“I feel like its just an adapting thing,” Reyes said. “If you see other people do that and you see value in it, you’ll start to pick it up too.”

For the journalistic community and industry as a whole though, linking to publications other than your own, which news outlets like the New York Times often does not do, is healthy for all of us. As Miller stresses, hyperlinks help connect us all to one another and helps encourage the spreading of good, reliable information.

“For what we do at a local level, because JUMP and Philadelphia Neighborhoods are both very hyperlocal websites. … I think that it’s important for us to link out and support the other hyperlocal, smaller publications,” Miller said. “To me, it’s just such a no-brainer. I don’t understand why people don’t do it.”

I cannot doubt the usefulness of articles that employed links – I learned so much more on this topic than I would have thanks to people like Rosenberg who was sure to include hyperlinks in his posts.

I don’t know what the next trend in online journalism will be, but it’s not too late for publications to jump on board with hyperlinks as an accessible tool.

Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu.

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