Category Archives: Filtering the Web

Nine Steps to Verified Link Journalism

If you see a blog post titled “10 Iconic Journalists Every J-Student Should Study” and want to share it with your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or old-fashioned e-mail contacts, please consider what you’re endorsing when you link to it.

More than 70 people have tweeted the link so far.

That’s fine. Some, most or maybe all of them think it’s worth sharing. No problem there.

But I’ve wondered since last night, when I first saw the link, if people realized what it was: linkbaiting as SEO, with the hopes of increasing traffic to an irrelevant site, boosting its rank in search results for the keywords in its URL.

Of course we all want links to our sites. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the folks who tweet and retweet the link become a party to this practice of gaming the Web and devaluing higher-quality content that generates traffic organically.

Context

I received an email notification that I had a new message sent through my personal blog’s contact form at 12:37 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2010. Here are the details:

NAME

Amber Johnson

E-MAIL

amber.johnson1983@gmail.com

MESSAGE

Hi,
We posted an article, " 10 Iconic Journalists Every JStudent Should Study” (http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2010/01/04/10-iconic-journalists-every-jstudent-should-study/), and I thought that you or your readers might find it appealing.
Wishing you Happy & Prosperous New Year

Amber Johnson

I’ve received a few messages like this in the past and planned to disregard this one too. Judging by the approach and complete lack of personalization (that’s right, don’t even use my name in the note, which is probably submitted by some kind of script), I guessed that other journalism bloggers had received also it.

Sure enough, I saw a few links to it on Twitter within minutes. Did they think it was linkbait?

Here’s how a journalist should verify content before linking to it

1. What is the URL?

The domain is the first possible indicator. For the “10 Iconic Journalists” post, this should set off the first set of warning bells:

onlinecolleges[dot]net/2010/01/04/10-iconic-journalists-every-jstudent-should-study

Come on, it looks fishy from onset. You probably wouldn’t open an email from Online Colleges, nor would you likely click such a textlink ad in your email program, so why would you want be a relay point for that promotion?

2. What’s on the site?

College-related content and search.

3. Does this content on this site seem out of place?

Does a site called OnlineColleges really care what journalism students study? No, they want you to use their service. Look at the other recent blog content. And the email sender was “savvy with their target group — journalists on Twitter — who will tweet and RT the hell out of the link,” as Daniel Petty said in a reply. It’s very smart of them to have authorititave people with strong reputations to generate buzz.

4. Who owns the site?

Whenever this isn’t immediately clear on the about page or in the footer, you should be suspicious. Why don’t they list it?

5. Who owns the URL?

OnlineColleges.net is registered to Stephanie Marchetti of Glen Ellyn, IL. Based on a search of her name and search of her email address, it looks as though she’s registered other similarly named domains, such as graduatedegree[dot]org, mbainfo[dot]com and eduers[dot]com. She owns a total of 51 domains, according to DomainTools.com.

Note: I couldn’t find anything connecting her to the email address that sent the message to my blog.

6. Who has previously linked to the site?

Search link:URL on Google (substitute the address for URL and make sure there’s no space between it and the link: search operator).

7. Who sent the link?

“Amber Johnson”

8. Is it a real person?

The name sounded like a fake when I first saw the message, so I searched Amber Johnson, Amber Johnson + advertising, Amber Johnson + pr, Amber Johnson + Online Colleges, etc, etc. with no luck.

I also searched that name with the registrants name — without success.

9. If it’s not a real person, who is it?

I searched the email address from my contact form and didn’t find anything helpful until I put quotes around it. After the search, sometime during the 1 a.m. hour, I got one result, which included this:

The IP address links to a page with more details, which indicates the email bounced off a telecom company server in India. Not very helpful, but an important step in this investigation.

As I did all this, I was chatting with Daniel Bachhuber on IM (Daniel aptly noted that someone might just be using that particular server to send the message; it might not be the actual computer from where it was sent) and posting a few key details to Twitter (read some of the discussion).

I also searched “amber.johnson1983,” which gave me four results last night, including the one from the above search. Two results showed the same message I received and the other showed a similarly spammy request.

What to do

It’s important to always open links before you retweet or share them online. It doesn’t hurt to check the short URL or text of a tweet or DM beforehand if it’s suspect.

It’s also good to read, watch, listen to or in some other way consume the content on that page before you share (I’ll admit that I too could do a better job of fully consuming the content).

You could also follow steps similar what I did with the “10 Iconic Journalists” post.

Take away the source and context and the big question is, “Does this provide value?” Or, “Does this meaninfully add to the conversation?” Regardless of everything else, I knew from seeing the content that I found this post to have no real value. (OK, maybe just a tad in stirring comments of who should be on the list).

Conclusion

Don’t take the linkbait. Whether it’s an unknown site that looks spammy or a big site trying to keep their traffic up throughout the day by posting new content with little value, you don’t want to be known as someone who falls for this and, by making the bait-layer successful, strengthening the practice.

What’s the best etiquette? I think it’s ok to send someone a message such as, “Hey, I thought you’d be interested in this” or “I’d love your thoughts on this” and let the person do what they want. They’ll link it on their own if they like it. I’m more likely to not share a link if you ask just because I don’t want to open the door to more solicitations.

For the newsy crowd, journalists shouldn’t include a source or a source’s information in a story without verifying who they are and what they’re motivation is, so why not do the same on Twitter?

Sure, you don’t have to. But with all the noise and what I’ll call chaff-disguised-as-wheat online, why not — as a journalist — do your due diligence when sharing a link? And, sure, you may say a link or RT is not an endorsement, but it might still be perceived as such.

It’s not simply about denying linkbaiters their pageviews and buzz, it’s about your credibility and reputation as a trusted source of information.

Moreover, verifying information or links you pass along is something everyone, not just journalists should do, no matter the medium. And, if you can’t verify it, provide context. (More good reading on that topic here.)

Link journalism makes context easy in stories online. But the link in itself is not necessarily journalism — it’s what you do to verify its source and accuracy that makes it journalism and, thus, more valuable.

“Because it’s on the Web” is no excuse for not verifying. That just leads to low-quality content, of which there’s plenty online. Instead, you should strive for the best quality because there is so much garbage out there.

Far too often people tweet or retweet something as a knee-jerk reaction, whether they read it or not. It seems that some people have become accustomed to over-sharing links. They might be well intentioned, but I would just like those frequent linkers to think:

  • Is this really providing value?
  • Is this unique? Specifically, has it been tweeted a million and two times already?

True, we all have different audiences and even having many overlapping followers doesn’t mean you should leave out the others who might not have seen it. We all need to be more discerning about what we share — and we need to know where it comes from.

There’s plenty of linking, but I’d like to see more thinking along with it.

Epilogue

Because we’re talking about links to lists, I’ll also say that all these of specific skills journalists need to have are all well and good, but the fundamentals are more important. Specifically, thinking critically and being skeptical.

Bonus link: Craig Kanalley on how to verify a Tweet.

A version of this post can also be found at The Linchpen.

Collaborative Curation in Action: Building a Copenhagen Collaborative Newswire

Publish2 empowers news organizations to band together in a Newsgroup to bring their readers the best of the Web through collaboration. A Publish2 Newsgroup enables any group of journalists to collect news and information on any given topic in one place, and then automatically publish the curated stream of links.

The Northwest Newsgroup was the first to prove that a large group of reporters, editors, and producers across a wide range of newsrooms — from a variety of media companies — could collaborate to curate regional breaking news. The Northwest Newsgroup became a collaborative newswire for the Web, one based on linking to the original reporting at the source.

This week, during the Copenhagen climate summit, a group of journalists from Mother Jones, The Nation, Grist, The UpTake, TreeHugger, and other news organizations have applied the collaborative newswire model to a major international news story, forming the Copenhagen News Collaborative to curate the best coverage from their own reporters, editors, and analysts covering the event.

Here’s the collaborative newswire published at Mother Jones:

cop15_motherjones

Grist published links from their own an newsgroup alongside the collaborative Copenhagen Newswire (Indy Media @ Copenhagen), which became an integral part of their Copenhagen coverage:

cop15_grist

The Copenhagen collaborative newswire appears as part of the new EnviroNation blog at The Nation:

cop15_thenation

Discover Magazine’s Intersection blog introduced their Copenhagen News Collaborative participation to their readers, pointing out the widget in their sidebar and finishing with this note:

“…there is a lot of Copenhagen news coming, and we stand at a nexus for producing it….”

cop15_discover

Updated 12/10/09: The Copenhagen collaborative newswire is now live on TreeHugger’s key page on the climate summit:

cop15_treehugger

Here’s a look at the long list of journalists in the Copenhagen News Collaborative Newsgroup at Publish2:

cop15_newsgroup

Collaboration is key: A lone news organization couldn’t provide the range of news and analysis covered by the stories being submitted by these sources.

Think about how you can make this work at a local level. Are you already exchanging links, stories, and photos with other local news organizations? Or are you still trying to cover every angle of every story on your own? What about national and international news? Would you rather publish links chosen by an algorithm trying its best to match a keyword search, or a high quality newswire full of stories hand-picked by journalists who know their beats?

Ready to build your own collaborative newswire?

Choose a topic or region, start a Publish2 Newsgroup, invite your peers and colleagues from other news organizations to join, and use Publish2 widgets and feeds to automatically publish a stream of curated news across platforms, send links to Twitter, and bring your readers the best of the Web, from any source in the world.


Networked link journalism: A revolution quietly begins in Washington state

The discussion about journalism’s future so often focuses on Big Changes — Kill the print edition! Flips for everyone! Reinvent business models NOW! — that it’s easy to forget how simple innovation can be.

Sometimes all you need is a few Tweets, a bunch of links, and some like-minded pioneers.

That’s how a quiet revolution began in Washington state Wednesday. Four journalists spontaneously launched one of the first experiments in collaborative (or networked) link journalism to cover a major local story.

But it gets better. Those four journalists weren’t in the same newsroom. In fact, they all work for different media companies. And here’s the best part: Some of them have never even met in person.

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The New AP

Matt Thompson and Jeff Jarvis have been doing some important thinking on how news coverage needs to change in the Internet Age. They argue that a flow of shallow, time-dependent stories no longer works as a foundation for helping readers understand the world.

Thompson started a blog devoted to exploring an alternative. He writes in the introductory post:

Until recently, newspaper editors defined news as “important developments over the past 24 hours.” … My understanding of journalism is broader. To me, journalism is the constant effort to deliver a truer picture of the world as it is. The “latest developments” provide one lens through which to capture that picture. And as long as journalism was primarily delivered by static media, that lens made perfect sense.

The Web, however, makes possible other ways of delivering that picture of our evolving world. It allows us to shirk the tyranny of recency and place more emphasis on context – the information that often gets buried beneath the news.

Jarvis takes the idea further:

[A] discrete and serial series of articles over days cannot adequately cover the complex stories going on now nor can they properly inform the public. There’s too much repetition. Too little explanation. The knowledge is not cumulative. Each instance is necessarily shallow. And when more big stories come — as they have lately! — in scarce time and space and with scarce resources, each becomes even shallower. We never catch up, we never get smarter. Articles perpetuate a Ground Hog Day kind of journalism.

[snip]

I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic. … I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and discussed.

I agree with both of them. (Disclosure: Matt’s a friend, and Jarvis is on the board of Publish2, where I’m an editor.) But there’s an ink-stained elephant in the room that needs to be faced if Thompson’s feeling that “we’re on the verge of an epochal advancement in journalism” is to come true.

I’m talking, of course, about the Associated Press.

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Digital Transition: From Redundant News Coverage To Original Link Journalism

The Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal is undoubtedly a big story, which every media outlet is covering, so I suppose it’s not surprising that Google News currently shows 2,580 versions of this story. But when you stop and think about, you have to ask — WHY are there 2,580 versions of this story?

You can hum along with the refrain — in traditional media, with monopoly local print and broadcast distribution channels, each news brand had to run their own version of a major story, because it was the only way for local residents to get the news.

On the web, this makes… no… sense.

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Knoxnews.com: The best Tennessee election coverage that can be found on the Internet

Jack Lail, an editor and journalist with a deep understanding of the web, big vision, and a “let’s do it” innovator’s spirit, set out to publish “the best Tennessee election coverage that can be found on the Internet” — he rounded up a group of journalists and bloggers, set them up on Publish2, and off they went. Here’s the result on knoxnews.com:

knoxnews-publish2.jpg

Jack explains it best:

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Join the Publish2 Election News Network

Publish2 is organizing a network of newsrooms, journalists, freelancers and network-affiliated bloggers to aggregate the best news coverage of the “Super Tuesday” February 5 U.S. primary elections, leading up to it and after. Publish2 is still in private beta, but we’re going to syndicate everything out via RSS feeds.

Publish2’s web-based bookmarking feature will aggregate bookmarks from all participants, which can then be published on their sites with headline links and brief descriptions. Think Digg + del.icio.us, syndicated, with a defined group of users, rather than an open free-for-all (which can be gamed).

There’s a huge opportunity to help voters find the best election coverage in the sea of election content. Yeah, you can do it by yourself — but on the web, the larger the network, the more influential the linking — time to break down those traditional media silos.

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