Gene Expression

On content redundancy

Felix Salmon, Link-phobic bloggers at the NYT and WSJ:

The problem, here, is that the bloggers at places like the NYT and the WSJ are print reporters, and aren’t really bloggers at heart. I discovered this a couple of weeks ago, after I posted a long and detailed blog entry on the court case between JP Morgan and Mexico’s CablevisiĆ³n. The WSJ’s Deal Journal blog didn’t link to it, but a couple of days later, the blog’s lead writer, Michael Corkery, had a piece in the print version of the newspaper which added nothing to the story, quoted the same CablevisiĆ³n executive that I had spoken to, and didn’t mention my post at all.

The decision not to cite or link to my blog was made by Dennis Berman, the editor of the WSJ story and a former Deal Journal blogger himself. Corkery and Berman read my piece and spent a couple of days re-reporting it, yet despite the fact that both of them have worked as bloggers, neither felt any need to link to me — or even to link to the court ruling in question. It’s a print-newspaper mindset, and it reveals something important: if even the WSJ’s bloggers eschew obvious links, there’s really no hope that the newspaper will genuinely embrace the power of the web at any point in the foreseeable future.

Both the NYT and the WSJ have built blogs as something of a link ghetto: if you want to find an external hyperlink anywhere on their sites, the only place you’ll have a decent chance of finding one is on the blogs. (There are a few noble and notable exceptions, Frank Rich being one of them: the web version of his column is always full of interesting external links.)

That’s depressing enough — but what’s more depressing still is that even the bloggers at the NYT and WSJ are link-phobic, often preferring to re-report stories found elsewhere, giving no credit to the people who found and reported them first. It’s almost as though they think that linking to a story elsewhere is an admission of defeat, rather than a prime reason why people visit blogs in the first place. It’s a print reporter’s mindset, and it should have no place at Dealbook, Deal Journal, or any other blog.

Conventional media organs are great with all their resources and ability to dig deep into a story. But the replication of nearly the exactly same “breaking news” all over the place is a bit much. If there’s something that comes out that I want to talk about, one of my first instincts is to see if Ed Yong or Dr. Daniel MacArthur have already covered that ground, there’s no point in doing work which has been done, when a link would suffice. But obviously you’ll never see CNN or The New York Times just link the AP wire story, let alone each other, when it’s something which has just broken and everyone knows the exactly same few facts. In contrast, if Ed or Dr. MacArthur cover the bases, I might extend upon their own angle and see if I have a value-add. Though sometimes even when we don’t intend to complement, we may. See How inbreeding killed off a line of kings and Inbreeding & the downfall of the Spanish Hapsburgs; both were published at the exact same moment because were under embargo and had our posts written ahead of time.

Comments

  1. #1 John Emerson
    March 7, 2010

    It’s a print-newspaper mindset, and it reveals something important….

    I think it’s more an establishment viewpoint. The WSJ is Somebody, and Felix Salon is, in their world, Nobody (Reuters is global but not big time).I don’t think that big time newspapers credit small time print publications either.

    People at those places worked very hard and kissed a lot of ass to get where they are, and they resent being undermined by nobodies, even from Reuters.

  2. #2 agnostic
    March 8, 2010

    Since all media industries are incredibly competitive, we infer that this must be mostly due to demand-side forces. I’m sure everyone would love to puff themselves up by not linking, etc., but if the readers (subscribers or not) and advertisers wanted links in the articles, competition among newspapers and their blogs would compel writers to include them — pride or no pride.

    Think about the supply side: they’re actually incurring *greater* costs by writing up their own version of the story rather than putting up a three-word link! Again if that did not serve consumer demand, those extra costs would cause the WSJ and NYT to go out of business. NYT’s not doing great, but it isn’t bankrupt; and WSJ is of course profitable.

    Felix Salmon presumes to have a crystal ball into the average reader’s mind, but he clearly doesn’t. Those readers know about blogs outside of major media outlets, and can read them for extensive linking if they are interested in following things up. However, when they’re reading the WSJ or NYT website, they evidently don’t care about having lots of links to explore. They just want to skim over stories and get the gist, not immerse themselves in the details of a given article, or have to go outside the website to 50 different places to explore link-only items.

    And re: Somebodies vs. Nobodies, that’s entirely determined by the writers’ audience! If only prestige came from one’s own self-esteem… So the writers may well think it’s low-status to provide lots of links, but again if readers and advertisers really wanted those links, competition would eliminate writers who chose status over serving the consumer.

    It must be that the readers and advertisers themselves see lots of links as a low-status thing — “I wouldn’t lower myself to reading such a thing.” Only writers for audiences that see links as a good thing will be able to put in lots of links.

    That’s one of the most misunderstood dynamics in any competitive system, whether a market economy or competitive electoral politics. They have to compete on the margin of serving consumers, so if you don’t like what results, blame the voters.

  3. #3 John Emerson
    March 10, 2010

    City newspapers aren’t competitive at all any more, except in one or two cities. One city, one paper. National newspapers aren’t really competitive either; there really are only four in the US, and they fill different slots. (USA Today, infotainment; Washington Post, DC insider; NY Times, the paper of record, the most detail; Wall Street Journal, serious business news, competing only with the Financial Times).

    Newspapers in general are competing with everything else, and doing very, very poorly.

    The newspapers are trying to protect the news monopoly they’ve lost, and they’re they’re really flailing around. One problem is that if they don’t let people link on, but if they do let people link, they don’t make much money off it.

    There are also ethical and professional concerns about not acknowledging precedence, though the big organizations can ignore those. Presumably they believe that since everyone else is stealing their stuff one way (linking without paying), they can steal other people’s stuff in a different way (plagiarizing, essentially).

    The one size fits all demand-side explanation really doesn’t work in this case.

  4. #4 Ed Yong
    March 22, 2010

    I actually have no problem with people covering the same story. It’s good for science because people get lots of chances to hear about something cool. It’s good for writers, because you get to see how someone else writes from the same material. I love it when Carl Zimmer and I end up covering the same paper, because Carl has a very different writing style and he often takes a different angle. I read, I learn.

    What I absolutely can’t stand is when media parrot the same material, right down the same quotes and sentences. That’s churnalism and it’s lazy.

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