BBC: Links As Footnotes and Curation Tool

Sometime last month, the BBC circulated a Powerpoint presentation (Scribd document) to staff that cements links as an “essential” (emphasis per original document) element for BBC reporting.

Moreover, the BBC wants to “double outbound links from 10m to 20m a month by 2013.” Links are, according to this BBC document, a “well suit[ed] unique selling point for BBC News.”

The guidance document includes important tips for anyone who is writing online:

  • Think before linking: what links will “add the most to the reader’s understanding?”
  • Link to “useful stuff” like analyses, explainers, Q&As, picture galleries, academia, blogs, “stuff you see and use when writing story”
  • Link to primary sources “inline”, such as policy analysis or scientific journals
  • Links should have semantic sense: “In newspaper reviews, the link text should include the newspaper name, the active verb and something about the story.”
  • Links must be obvious (this is a design issue, not a writing one) and meaningful (no “click here”)
  • Deeplink – that is, link to the supporting material, not a homepage, and no links to paywalls
  • A Q&A must end with a reference to other online sources that answer the question, “Where can I find more about this on the web?”

I’d argue that the BBC is also asking its journalists to think of themselves as curators, although the word does not appear in the document. For example, journalists should “avoid archive news stories that don’t add value.” Instead, they should feature “best available content, not just latest news stories.”

The Guardian published the BBC document. British journalist Paul Bradshaw calls it a “good set of guidance.”

Earlier this year, Bradshaw detailed arguments about linking to scientific journals, arguing that it made sense to link to an abstract (not the journal homepage), even if the article was behind a paywall, because an abstract is “very useful” and “[provides] more context than a journal homepage.” He railed against a “broadcast mentality” and argued that “[t]he minority of users who can access those papers can actually be key contributors to a collaborative journalism process. If you let them.”

Given the Nicholas Carrlinks can interfere with reading” arguments (and rebuttals) from earlier this year, the BBC guidance document is refreshing, if incredibly late-to-the-party.

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