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The state of hyperlinking in news reports

Written by Sherwin, published on March 22, 2014

s with figurative hyperlinks in them

I’m happy to report that the state of hyperlinking in news in Canada appears to be improving. It’s a tentative claim. However, last year I wrote twice about what I found to be a disturbing absence of hyperlinks in “digital” journalism.

And lately I’ve had the distinct sense that there’s an increase in the number and quality of hyperlinks.

So by way of just checking in with my impression, today I decided to do a small case study. It’s a bit like the ones I did last year. The results of this case study are very limited. Still. It’s a better result than I had anticipated. This is how I did it.

First I had to think of a report to form the basis of my case study. Best if it was written by a non-news organization with some expertise. A figured a case from 2014 would be best. The report I had mind was that Oxfam Report on inequality. It got quite a lot of press and it pointed out, among other things, that the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half. I chose the Oxfam Report because, well, it’s of great interest to me and honestly it was the first report of 2014 to come to mind. It’s called Working for the Few: Political capture and economic inequality.

After choosing a particular report, I chose a bunch of newslike organizations. I made a list: The Tyee, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, the Financial Post, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, the Vancouver Sun, the  Times Colonist, The Star and Maclean’s. Ten, in all.

Then, using a web index, as well as the site search tools provided by these organizations, I checked to see if they had reported on the Oxfam report.

The Oxfam report came out on January 20th. And many of the news organizations reported on it the same day. Some didn’t do a post on the Oxfam report1 so I didn’t include them in my analysis. To be more precise, half of the organizations I checked in on hadn’t written about the report.2 I won’t include them in my ranking.

In terms of assessment, these are the kinds of things I was looking for:

  1. Did the article link to the authoritative Oxfam report page?
  2. Did the article link to the full Oxfam PDF report (900KB)?
  3. Did the article link to the Oxfam PDF report summary(300KB)?
  4. Did the article link to the Oxfam press release about the report?
  5. If the article was missing links to Oxfam resources, did it link to other pages where the links could be found? Did the article link to any other Oxfam posts, articles or resources?
  6. How well-formed were the links? This includes a number of factors, like, visibility of the link, descriptiveness and user friendliness? You know, did the link warn users if it was a link to a PDF? And did the link force a new tab open? This last issue is less important than it used to be, but I think it still matters. Users should have control over whether a link opens in a new tab or window, or not. I also took away points if the link was a nofollow link (rel=”nofollow”).

Based on these factors, these were the grades I gave the following news organizations:

News org Article link Notes Grade
The Huffington Post article  There’s a link to the authoritative article and also a link to press release. They use target=”_hplink” which forced my browser to open the link in a new tab, but seriously who cares, because they linked to the press release. Awesome. A
CTV article There’s a link to the full PDF. They don’t describe that it’s a PDF in the anchor text or title. Opens in a new tab using target=”_blank”. B
CBC article There’s a link to the authoritative Oxfam article. It opens in the same tab, but not very descriptive. B+
Globe and Mail article Link to the full PDF, but doesn’t announce that it’s a PDF. B
Financial Post article Does not link to the reports or pages. F

With the exception of the Financial Post, every news organization that was on my list and that also wrote about the report, provided a link to it. That’s very good compared to my last two case studies where I found a wasteland of spammy articles with no links to resources.

Even though it’s very hard to extrapolate from my limited case study to news media, in general, it’s a very positive sign. So, tentatively, good work Canadian Media!

  1. News organizations that didn’t report on it (as far as I can tell) include Maclean’s, The Star, the Times Colonist, the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post (but the Financial Post did). To be honest, this is a lot more than I had anticipated.
  2. Interestingly, every single news organization that didn’t report on the Oxfam report, Working for the Few: Political capture and economic inequality did write an article about the Scarlett Johansson, Oxfam, Soda Stream stuff.
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