Frank Rich on His ‘Extracurricular Activity’

rich_frank_credit_fred_conrad_tggghe_new_yo.jpgFrank Rich has always been ahead of the game when it comes to embracing the Internet in his weekly op-ed columns at the New York Times (maybe a little too much sometimes…he links a lot!). When we ran into him at the Time Summit a month or two ago he told us that while it hadn’t been his decision to initiate comments (or monitor them) it had been his decision to include links in his writing. Over at the The Nieman Journalism Lab he is discussing just that (and not for the first time we might add!).

Why not give the reader, if he or she wants to, the opportunity to see the sources, or a source, when it’s available? It helps bulletproof the column, because if they say ‘He must be making that up,’ they can look and see — here’s the source, take a look and judge it for yourself…If I’m citing a figure, at the most banal level, from the Labor Department or a poll or an economic report, [why not] link to the whole document it comes from?

As to how the linking came about he says it was very natural.

I’d say the biggest single breakthrough was to realize, as my assistant Benjamin Toff realized, we have the capability to insert links into the pieces easily, electronically…without going through the bureaucracy. If every link had to go through a bureaucratic procedure that was time-consuming on deadline, we couldn’t do it.

To me as a writer, the most important thing is to have the column stand alone,” he told me. “Believe it or not, there are still a lot of readers who still read the column on paper.” Linking, he says, is “extracurricular activity for those who want it and have the time to indulge in it.”