The Golden Rule: Thou shalt link

The rest of the web knows how to link: if you get information from another site, common courtesy indicates you should link back to the original source.

But many online journalists haven’t quite adopted that reasoning. There is still a prevailing theory among many journalists that the blogs we ransack for leads or story ideas are not actual news sources and do not merit attribution. Add to that a resistance to linking to any outside site for fear that visitors will be led away from the page and the result is a slew of professional journalists who are linkphobic.

Back in February, Robert Niles wrote a helpful primer on how, and where, to hyperlink a news story. Clearly, some people never read it. Recently, there has been an outcry from bloggers who are seeing mainstream publications source their original content without attribution.

The SEO Company
has an informative table that shows which online media powerhouses are linking to sites outside of their own. Interestingly, many sites only link in their blog posts and not in their main stories. SEO makes a good point about linking out:

We believe that linking to useful websites doesn’t “leak” traffic – quite the opposite in fact. Offering useful links actually makes visitors more likely to return to see what other interesting websites they might find in the future[…] Mainstream media websites are, with the exception of the BBC, business entities with shareholders and an obligation to maximise profits. It’s understandable that they are reluctant to send valuable page views elsewhere.

Here is the cardinal rule of internet journalism: A link should be added to any story if the information is based on that from another site, even if it is from a blog. Anything else is plagiarism and just wrong.

Web journalists should also link to sites that readers may find useful. For example, if a theatrical production is being reviewed, a link to purchasing tickets may be helpful. Or if a Crime Stoppers-like organization has more detailed information on a crime suspect, provide a link for readers to follow.

Hyperlinking can be a form of journalism itself. Two excellent blogs, Journerdism and shiner.clay, both provide collections of links to stories that may be interesting to readers.

To those who are still apprehensive about the whole linking thing, do not be afraid that readers will leave your site. If you continue to provide, well-written, one-of-a-kind content, readers will keep coming back.