Link journalism: Credibility and authority

Scott Karp writes about “link journalism” and how it could have saved face for The New York Times in the recent case of using unnamed sources in a story about John McCain and a lobbyist:

… on the web, with its infinite space and connectedness, the Times could have added an important supplement to their own perspective in recounting the history of McCain ethics since 1991:

LINKS to the the actual reporting that has been done over the years. [Caps and boldface in the original text.]

In an earlier post about linking as a tool, Karp wrote:

Just as the reported quote is an essential element of journalism, on the web the “reported link” must become an essential element of journalism.

These are some meaty and interesting ideas (thanks to our grad student Gary R. for send me the link to a ReadWriteWeb post that highlighted Karp’s posts), and they immediately made me think about the George Polk Award recently conferred on blogger Joshua Micah Marshall for journalism — yes, journalism — committed in his blog Talking Points Memo.

While many have cheered the decision to acknowledge Marshall’s work in connecting the dots between “politically motivated dismissals of United States attorneys across the country,” some have implied that what occurs in TPM is not really, you know, the same as journalism.

His work differs, though, from big newspaper or network political reporters. It often involves synthesizing the work of other news outlets with his staff’s original reporting and tips from a highly involved readership. In the case of the United States attorneys, Talking Points Memo linked to many local articles about federal prosecutors being forced from office and drew a national picture for readers. [Boldface is mine this time.] (Source: The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2008)

The status of the link, or the function of the link, in an online report or commentary (on a blog or elsewhere) demands consideration. Why has the writer included the link? Why that link instead of another one? What does the link convey? (Such a nice word, convey.)

My colleague Cory Armstrong conducts research about credibility in journalism. She and I have worked together on a couple of studies concerning blogs and credibility among college students (our favorite study participants, naturally), and I’ll leave you with this idea, from a book chapter we have recently co-authored:

In news stories, the source of the news story is responsible for conveying information about a story, so who is quoted may determine how the story is interpreted by readers. …

Extending this argument to Weblogs, the term “source” takes on different meanings. In traditional news coverage, the source is the person to whom information is attributed and, in some instances, the journalist who is conveying the story. However, as noted above, Weblogs are a bit different. Weblogs are generally written by an individual who shares his or her opinions and usually provides additional Internet links for more information. Those links are often to mainstream media or informational Web sites, which may lend credibility to the overall Weblog post, but the links themselves aren’t generally examined for source credibility. The human sources quoted in a news story speak to the reader. Rather than speaking to the blog user, the links in a blog post speak for the blog author. (Race/Gender/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers, 2nd edition. Rebecca Ann Lind, editor. Longman: Forthcoming.)

In providing links to diverse reports appearing in many different locations, TPM’s Marshall and his colleagues demonstrated the authority of their analysis that particular U.S. attorneys had been dismissed for political reasons.

Rather than relying on what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have famously criticized as the “journalism of assertion,” the new link journalism supplies evidence by backing up statements. Rather than making a phone call to a favorite and easy-to-reach expert or pundit, the journalist conducts research (imagine that!) and sources the facts by linking directly to them.

This is what Scott Karp is calling “link journalism,” and I’m pleased to pick up that meme and run with it.

5 Comments on “Link journalism: Credibility and authority

  1. regarding Scott Karp’s ‘link journalism’ and the sentence immediately preceding this label which states, “Rather than relying on what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have famously criticized as the “journalism of assertion,” the new link journalism supplies evidence by backing up statements.”

    My comment-
    A sort of fact checker if you will or evidentiary aspect that supports your own credibility for those things you may feel compelled to comment on or blog.
    The problem arises, however, as the original stories are removed, the hyperlinks begin to fail. What that links followers will find is a 404 page that says the original story is either missing or has been deleted.
    I suggest, then, if you believe something worth blogging or commenting, one should take the time to make an effort to preserve the original evidence. Take a screen capture to preserve it.

  2. You know, we started talking about that nearly two years ago, and I still believe it. In terms of blog credibility, I think the links used and the design/professionalism of the site are the key components of the site itself, and those work in concert with the level of blog usage (and motivation) of the reader.

    In terms of the links, they are a major focus, as I think readers want to know where the author goes for information and the links are indicative of that. They are the “sources” for the story.

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