Thursday, November 01, 2007

Why Not Back It Up?

I don't think that people need to source or back up every single little thing they say, particularly when they're writing an opinion piece. But I couldn't help but wonder after reading this piece (via) why news organizations in particular don't bother to link to whatever it is they're referring to.
This is most frustrating since, given today’s technology, providing access to source materials is as easy as creating a hyperlink and reserving a little space on a server. Shifting more and more content away from dead-tree vehicles to online platforms was a great move, but that was just the first step. The MSM needs to produce content in a manner more suitable to the new medium — i.e. provide hyperlinks, source material, and continuously updated content. It’s really not that hard, but for some reason the industry just isn’t catching on.
This is true. It doesn't make sense. Rarely do news organizations - from CNN to the NYTimes to FoxNews to the Wall Street Journal - bother to simply link to the documents they're quoting from, to the pages they're citing, etc. They give canned representations of a few soundbites from hundreds of pages of documents and present them however they'd like - usually selecting a few choice lines that are strongly worded in each direction and implying that this was the general theme of whatever it is they're referring to. How - in 2007 - is that considered responsible journalism?

Blogs obviously link all the time. Large news companies do not. I wonder what it will take to pressure those in the MSM to start linking to the raw data; perhaps smaller news sources and weeklies, etc. doing it will finally push it over the edge. It needs to start somewhere, the question is if the blogosphere is enough to do it. I'm not sure the blogosphere can yet take on the MSM on this, but if pits parts of the MSM against itself, that might work.

As an aside, those of us in the Jewish community should, I think, push for the same from our own media. A perfect example was last week's interesting piece on sexual abuse statistics within the Orthodox community in the Jewish Week... which didn't link to the study it was discussing. Assuming it was online somewhere (it may not have been), why not link to it? Let people see the rest of the numbers, the basis of the findings, the methods of research... etc.

To some extent, I don't expect this as of yet from smaller publications; it likely hasn't even been suggested. But larger publications, certainly when we're discussing the mainstream media of the United States? This should be basic.

Of course there is one other possibility, as Glenn Reynolds noted, as to why they wouldn't want this:
Because then people could make up their own minds.
Sad, but all too possibly true.


  1. To be fair to the Jewish Week I doubt the study was publically available. I couldn't even find the journal it was published in on JSTOR, ProQuest, or Lexis.

  2. So I gathered. I was merely giving an example; it's not meant as an attack on the Jewish Week whatsoever.

  3. I know. And in general you're absolutely right.

  4. I agree. Especially when trying to do research for a paper or article (remember my TV/movies thing? 99% of the frustration was not being able to find sources that were cited), not being able to find the original or primary source can be unbelievable frustrating. And I definitely agree on the point of linking as part of responsible and unbiased journalism - readers need to be able to go back and verify that journalists are using impartial info (and if they're not, then journalists also must balance them with sources from other or opposing viewpoints).

  5. I believe that you see some of this in the blogs at the newspapers.i.e. if a writer has a blog, he/she will sometimes provide background for a story running in the regular paper.

    Of course the periodical that does this the best, is Slate, which, I think is the model for the modern blog.

  6. I agree completely. Glenn Greenwald, iirc, has made this point often.