Tag Archives: Old media

Traditional media’s refusal to enter the link economy

Blogger ethics tend to be better than traditional journalism ethics when it comes to linking to sources. It’s actually far more likely you won’t find a single link in any articles in most mainstream news publications online. Sometimes they may even write out the source, but won’t link to it.

Here’s an example of where the New York Post cites TV Newser and Mediaite, but refuses to link to either. Both Newser and Mediaite are generous with links to their sources. Apparently the New York Post is a common offender. The Post has gone so far as to have allegedly admitted, by way of correspondence from one of their reporters, that they in fact have a policy to not credit blogs (or anyone else) if they can verify independently after they’ve been tipped off from the source they choose not to cite. Other parts of News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which includes the Post, may have the same policy as well.

Recently, NBC New York used a good deal of their reporting from a post written by NYC The Blog, which does excellent coverage of stories that often fall between the cracks, and does so with great detail. The author of the post originally did not bother to mention his source, then added the mention, but has yet to link to it.

Why are mainstream news outlets so averse to the link economy? Even here at Reuters, links are rarely seen, if ever, in the context of the articles we post. Felix Salmon recently referred to the Wall Street Journal as “the kid in class with his arm around his homework” in reference to their refusal to link. The New York Times is just as stingy with their links, relegating their modern link-friendly journalism to excellent places like The Lede.

The Lede is one of the few places I’ll return to multiple times a day, because it’s indicative of the way the world works now: real-time and part of a cooperative effort among outside sources, linking back and forth to one another, without regard for their internal or external affiliation.

Journalism today is a collaborative effort and the digital natives link to their sources as a matter of course. They understand the value of the link economy and it is rarely a one way street. Linking out doesn’t take traffic away from your site; instead, it makes your site more valuable as a comprehensive source of where information is flowing, it helps to show you’ve done your homework and are able to back it up.

This is not particularly new ground I’m covering here. Jeff Jarvis has written extensively on the link economy. Our own president of media, Chris Ahearn, believes in the link economy and Felix Salmon has weighed in on how the link economy benefits Reuters.

The issue is both technical and cultural. Many of these crusty old media behemoths are still embedded in the maw of very old editorial workflows that simply make it impossible to link out. Personally, I find this hard to believe, since if they’re publishing to the web, surely they have some way of linking within their articles. What I find more easy to believe, but not entirely a valid excuse, is the culture.

The culture of current “old media” newsrooms does not have the ethical inclination to link. They’re still provincial and afraid that once someone has clicked a link to a referring source, they’re gone forever. The digital natives practically have the link embedded into their DNA. Sure, there are some bloggers with loose ethics when it comes to citing their sources by way of a link, but few of them do it by way of policy and the ones who do so often are not the ones running a business behind it.

How long will it take for the old guard to make way for the link friendly digital natives? Considering how much the powers that be are relying on those natives to help them transform the media business into something that can feasibly exist in the current landscape, sooner than you think.

(Photo credit: by cogdogblog on Flickr)

Stop matching

“Matching” — when one or more news organizations writes a story based on a news item that another outlet broke first — is an institutional problem deeply rooted within many mainstream newsrooms.

To paraphrase myself from this articlesometimes it’s a business strategy: Ignore your competition, don’t let your readers know they exist, pretend they didn’t beat you. Sometimes it’s cultural: The journalists come from a print background and didn’t grow up with the web like digital natives.Sometimes it’s technical: The CMS simply wasn’t created with links in mind (this sounds crazy but is actually true in some cases), or the system is built to serve multiple masters (print and digital), and the print side inexplicably wins out over the digital.

Often it’s a combination of one or more.

The practice of “matching” a story is an outdated one that still continues despite the fact we’re all now working with a medium that no longer requires it. If someone already reported the story, you’ve verified their story is correct, and you have nothing to move that story forward, write a brief and link to whom did the legwork already. By all means, let your readers know about the story, lead them to it. Be a beacon for all news, not just your own. Then, move on and produce something of more value.

Newsrooms are low on resource; apply those resources efficiently. Your 500-word re-write of the same article as your “competitor,” as you call them, is unnecessary and a total waste of time.

I’m not calling out anyone in particular — I’m calling out our entire industry that does this all day long and twice on Sunday. I’m begging you please, to stop. For your own good and for a public awash in duplicative information.

Anonymous Source-aholics Anonymous

Two very popular people have been in the news lately: “Senior government official” and “Law enforcement source.”

When you, the reader or viewer, see or hear either of these mysterious figures cited, proceed with caution. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • CNN’s John King and the Associated Press report that the Boston Marathon bombing suspect had been arrested and taken into custody. King based his information on his unnamed “law enforcement source.” The AP never clarified where their false information came from, presumably parroting King or the same “law enforcement source.” They both wound up being wrong.
  • The New York Times, the New York Daily News, Buzzfeed, and once again CNN and the Associated Press falsely report that the Washington Navy Yard Shooter was armed with an AR-15. All of them cited anonymous “law enforcement sources” while Buzzfeed simply created a listicle claiming “The Navy Yard Shooter Used The Same Style Weapon As Sandy Hook and Aurora.” Buzzfeed never bothered to pull the post, instead opting to change the title to“Officials Now Say That The Navy Yard Shooter Did Not Use The Same Style Weapon As Sandy Hook And Aurora” and at the very end of the post add, “The FBI has stated that they officially have no information about Alexis having an AR-15 in his posession during the attacks, contrary to earlier military reports.” The New York Timeslater updated their article but haven’t bothered to inform readers that they removed the reference they had earlier with the false report that the gunman was armed with an AR-15.The New York Daily News even ran the false report of the AR-15 on their cover. The AP’s story online still falsely stated at the time of this article being published that the gunman was carrying an AR-15.
  • The New York Times became so addicted to the use of anonymous sources in their Syria and New York mayoral race reporting, their own Public Editor called them out on it. She cited one reader’s comment that stated: “As usual, The New York Times is more than glad to help the most powerful leaders in the world get their message out without having to worry about little things about accountability, counterarguments, other facts and various unknowns…”
  • The Associated Presss ran this photo which they stated was related to the Navy Yard shooting. They later retracted the photo after learning it was not related to the shooting. (Update: AP now says the photo was redacted because they couldn’t confirm if the photo was related to the shooting, Buzzfeed has details about how the photo has now been confirmed by AP, who plan to potentially release the photo)

Respect and trust must be earned and every mistake should chip away at the credibility of the organization running these reports. However, I wonder if the average reader or viewer actually remembers these mistakes or if they continue to trust again and again. Jon Stewart provided this depressing commentary:

“The lesson they take from this is, it doesn’t matter how much they betray our trust, we’ll keep coming back.”

I wish he was wrong but I suspect he’s right.

The disconnect between traditional media and UGC

The majority of newsworthy video out of Syria, Egypt and all over the world, shot by camera phone finds its way to YouTube by way of citizens. The first thought of the shooter is usually not: “I need to share this with a major TV news network” because they don’t care about traditional television news networks or more likely they’ve never heard of them.

They have, however, heard of the Internet and that’s where they decide to share it with the world.

Companies like Storyful understand this and realize that UGC doesn’t magically come to you and it’s unlikely to seek you out. In order to be the first to discover it, you need to know where to look and develop good systems for hunting it down. It’s very much a traditional journalism exercise but requires very non-traditional journalistic tools to find them.

What we do need more of is people who know how to hunt down UGC and better tools for finding it. We’re pretty much all set with tools on how to capture it and where to upload it. News organizations would like to set up ways for themselves to be the sole place people choose to present that content, but the many attempts to do this have had very poor results.

Think of one of the more recent, most newsworthy photos: a high resolution image of the Boston bomber that was uploaded to, you guessed it: Facebook.

I think it’s incredibly cool to give citizens new tools to get UGC in the hands of the media, just don’t expect them to do something other than what the majority of citizens already do: whip out their phone take a photo or video and share it to Facebook or Twitter.

The people who will win are the ones who can find it.

(Photo credit:  Digital Trends)