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March 13, 2009, 7:05 a.m.

Why won’t news sites link?

It’s a great story. A magician posts videos of him shipping himself to Vegas from upstate New York via UPS. The Feds investigate. Turns out it’s a hoax and a publicity stunt. Hilarity ensues.

So far, so good. But you’re reading this online. What’s your first thought?

Right: Where’s the video?

You won’t find it in the AP retelling on the site.

You won’t find a link to the YouTube preview, or the special microsite set up to detail the fake journey.

You won’t find the links in the original story, in which the Syracuse Post-Standard is punked by the magician. (You will find the non-linked name of the web site, a sure sign that this is an automated port of a newspaper story)

And you won’t find them in the follow-up story on the Post-Standard either.

I’m picking on this one story, but it’s typical of far too many news web site stories that have obvious link potential: You won’t find links there.

For instance, why, in a column called “On Blogs,” which mentions ten online tools for Twitter, are none of those tools linked? And yet, in that same article, there are CMS-supplied robolinks to Britney Spears, Lance Armstrong and Al Gore, among others.

Is it stubbornness? Lack of training? Inertia? Not enough time? Back-end systems not optimized for linking?

Reporters blog. Reporters podcast. Reporters build mashups, tweet, create tumblogs, shoot video, host meetups. Everything but link. Why is the notion of link journalism still not taking root this many years into the transition from print to digital?

Yes, things are better than they were when newspapers first toddled online in 1995, but not much. More papers are launching aggregation strategies. Many reporters do link, some of them consistently, but overall, reporters-as-linkers remain a minority. And you’ll find the best examples of active linking happening on newspaper blogs, not in news articles, which are often lousy with robolinks, but surprisingly free of relevant hooks, even to sites mentioned in the article.

Think I’m exaggerating? Go to Google News and search for “helpful web site.” You might be disappointed.

And beyond the frustration it creates for readers, who come to news sites looking for utility, the missing link is an easy SEO opportunity, lost.

Whatever the reason, the missing link has to stop being a hallmark of newspaper-related sites. Is your organization doing something to encourage more linking? Talk about how you got there in the comments. And be sure to include links!

POSTED     March 13, 2009, 7:05 a.m.
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