Illustration of a person at their desk writing code and hyperlinks for the news industry.

The state of hyperlinking in journalism, a case study

From time to time I like to check in on how news orgs are doing with their online publishing practices. In particular, I like to review how they handle reports and science articles.

So when Oxfam published their inequality report this year, I was keen to see how journalists and their editors are doing. Hyperlinking, after all, is a foundational practice of web publishing. And making helpful, well-formed links is the responsibility of every publisher that cares about good publishing. More than that, hyperlinking is a citational practice.

So, using Google, I’ve searched for and found a collection of news organizations that filed a news article about the Oxfam report. I narrowed it down to news organizations that I think of as Canadian or as writing for Canadian audiences. Then I looked at their articles to see if they had links to the Oxfam report (PDF), summary, or press release. They need to have at least one of these to pass. Organizations got extra points for using good hyperlinking practices such as:

  1. using descriptive anchor text,
  2. using simple, well-formed code to make links,
  3. not using noreferrer or similar attributes,
  4. warning users of opening a PDF,
  5. opening links in the same tab or warning users otherwise,
  6. not overwhelming readers with too many links,
  7. not hiding links to Oxfam amidst a large number of internal links.

My rubric for assessing news orgs linking practices hasn’t really changed since my last case study on this topic. See more below.

To get an A+, all a news org had to do was link to the Oxfam report and one other relevant link, such as the press release, without any link faults.

As an aside, there was too much international coverage of this story for me to include them, but I did dip into quite a few of these stories. There were very mixed results with international stories. Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, and Daily Mail, all failed to link to the report, summary, or press release. I was surprised by this. Perhaps Daily Mail’s failure wasn’t a surprise to me, since they’re a tabloid, but the others did surprise me.

The news organization I assessed below also had very mixed results. Postmedia’s flaship newspaper, National Post, received a failing grade. And so did Toronto Star.

Here are my assessments. Let me know if I missed any Canadian stories – I’m happy to add to this list.

How did they do, by letter grade

News item and publisherNotesLetter grade
CBC
“Pandemic intensifies economic inequality worldwide, says Oxfam,” by Lynn Desjardins, Radio Canada International
2021 01 25
Single link to report landing page. Opens in new tab, without warning.

B-

CP24
“The megarich have already recovered from the pandemic. It may take the poor a decade to do so,” by Tami Luhby, CNN
2021 01 24
Linked to landing page. Opens in new tab without warning.

B-

CTV News
“The megarich have already recovered from the pandemic. It may take the poor a decade: Oxfam,” by Tami Luhby, CNN
2021 01 25
Linked to Oxfam report page, but also 14 other links to CNN pages.

C+

Huffington Post Canada

“Canada’s Richest 44 People Add $63.5B In Wealth As 20% Of Low-Income Jobs Vanish,” by
Daniel Tencer
2021 01 26
Doesn’t link to Oxfam report.

F

National Post
“Billionaires thriving as poor suffer in widening COVID-19 divide – Oxfam,” by Sonia Elks, Reuters
2021 01 25
No links.

F

Toronto Star
“Oxfam urges radical economic rejig for post-COVID world,” by Pan Pylas, Associated Press
2021 01 24
No links.

F

VICE
“COVID Has Made the Wealth Gap Even Worse Than We Thought,” by Emma Ockerman
2021 01 25
One of eleven links when to Oxfam. Anchor text was poor. Link went to unannounced PDF.

C-

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