Monday, December 14, 2009

To link or not to link, that is the question

Are there times when links should not be used due to ethical considerations?

This question is drawing lively debate in the Press Freedom forum at the ICFJ. Let's first take a look at the ethics of linking in general:

A brief history of links

The first online news sites were reluctant to link to material outside their own sites, says Jay Rosen of New York University in this clip produced by the Carnegie Ethics Studio.

Later, links were commonly used with permission from the site owner, but that practice has essentially died out, with most sites linking freely to content.

This means it is generally acceptable to link to most sites without specific permission, but the etiquette (according to the Press Freedom class) is to remove links quickly and without question if asked to do so by the site owner.

Advantages of linking

Linking to outside sources can give depth to the reader's experience and can reduce the occurance of plagiarism as it is a means of attribution. Links can provide background or biographical information, show source documents and point to different or opposing points of view. But links must be used judiciosly.

Ethical considerations

All links should be carefully researched, with rigorous standards applied. In my view, Web sites should treat links the same way print publications use sidebars: If you would include the additional information as a sidebar in your publication, link it. If not, don't.

There are two key areas to be mindful of here:
  • Controversial material
  • Advertising
As always, there is a fine line to walk with controversial material. The examples given in our Press Freedom class -- the Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy and "beheading videos" -- are good ones so I won't cast around for others. The ethical question here is, should readers be allowed to see first-hand what is causing controversy? Or is linking to the source in some way condoning it, raising its profile or lending it credibility?

My own view is that if people are interested in finding these things (and please note that I linked to the Wikipedia listings above, not to the actual cartoons or videos), they can do so in about 2 seconds on Google. There is no need for publications to serve them up on a platter.

As in print, advertising links always need to be clearly differentiated from regular news content.

In conclusion

These guidelines from Poynter Online offer an excellent overview of this topic.

Monday, December 7, 2009

MinnPost review

As someone who is obsessed with the current state of the newspaper industry -- or, more accurately, as someone who is having a full-blown existential crisis about the future of my profession -- I am fascinated with this site, which offers a new model for journalism.

I am intrigued at the mix of non-profit and private funding, and at the upfront solicitation for donations and the "shout out" to doners on the home page. The site is very transparent -- names of doners, dollar amounts, and lots of personal information about everyone involved with the site -- not just the writers. These bios were all presented in first person and went well beyond the traditional format to include details like family and even religious affiliations.

This site was more "blog" than the previous sites I evaluated, in that it was much more subjective. The credibility came from well-defined "real" personalities -- people who introduce themselves at length in the "about" section and whose pictures we can study, but who essentially produce opinion pieces about current events rather than offering a straightforward news account.

The site seems to be trying hard to make a very personal connection to its readers, by devoting so much energy to introducing its contributors.

But some of these contributors have a vested interest in seeing the site succeed as they are also shareholders, and I wonder how this impacts their decisions about what to write about. But they are taking a huge gamble on the future of the news industry and you have to hand it to them for that -- at least they are trying something and not wringing their hands!

Asharq Alawsat (English) review

My first impressions of this blog site are similar to that of Al Arabiya -- a clearly identified, credible media site. The layout is more sophisticated than Al Arabiya's in my view.

I noticed a number of news items were from Western wire services, AP and Reuters in particular. I also noticed a great deal of difference between the Arabic and English versions of the site -- different art and seemingly different stories featured. This makes me wonder how different the two versions of the site are, as they appear, at least in a visual sense, to be separate entities. Perhaps someone who reads both languages can comment on this?

Al Arabiya (English) review

Al Arabiya, has all the hallmarks of a professional media Web site. Its "about" section clearly identifies who owns it, its company history and target audience.

The site says it is "a pioneer in online journalism in the Arabic speaking world and aspires to be the most reliable source of news and analysis about the Middle East catering to readers all over the world."

The content in the main section of the site (on the left) is written in conventional newspaper style and is attributed to the wire agency(s) that produce it. It includes stories of interest from around the Middle East, and international stories of interest to a Middle Eastern audience. Opinion pieces are listed on the right, with the authors name clearly stated.

The design is clear and professional. The site also appears to be regularly updated as there is a fresh date on most of the stories, with the "front page" listings bearing today's date.

First impression? A credible, cleanly organised site that I would visit for a good idea of what's making headlines in the Middle East.

First post

This is my first post on this blog, which I have just set up for an ICFJ class. And it is just a test. So sorry to bore you: The hot news and insightful analysis will come later.