Woodward and Bernstein had Deep Throat.
The Feds had “Sammy the Bull”.
Scorsese made millions exploiting Henry Hill’s role as an informant for the FBI.
The informant. The word alone conjures up images of back room deals, scratchy audio recordings, and someone with glasses, a pocket protector, and notepad, getting the scoop. While the mob informant is typically dramatized on the big screen, just as common is the relationship between the news reporter and her sources. News reporters pour over tons of data to craft a well written article. Albeit, the role of the modern day journalist is very different from journalists of yesteryear, the notion of crafting a story has remained intact. Digital media may demand that the journalist incorporate multimedia or social media elements into their reporting, but the story must still exist, right?
Well, not exactly.
Coined by Scott Karp in 2008, the term Link Journalism is rapidly becoming more and more prevalent in the world of media. Link Journalism is the concept of no longer crafting well written articles based on investigative reporting. Link journalism is the practice of simply creating a headline and providing a bevy of actual news stories on the subject. Instead of working through an engaging lead or finding the right way to present the 5Ws, link journalism just compiles the set of news stories that already exist on the subject and presents them to the reader.
There are varying examples of link journalism, prevalent in media today. Some are held in high regard, while others reek of trashy tabloid stench. The most common examples of Link Journalism that are considered valid by most people include services like Yahoo News or the Google News archives. They compile the news from multiple subjects and present them by headline and subject area. This practice requires so little individualism and/or thought, that I imagine that many segments are the result of computer algorithms and fully automated in many instances.
The Drudge Report, a tabloid style blog, uses link journalism exclusively. Matt Drudge, does no original reporting, but offers daily headlines with links to other stories. The links vary in credibility, featuring everyone from Perez Hilton and Ann Coulter to the New York Times.
What Link Journalism does it take out the editing, revision, and vetting piece. The sources are not required to be credible, as they would in a traditional story; they are simply required to exist. The notion of supplementing a story with links is gone with this type of new journalism. The links have become the story.
A few years ago the Chicago Tribune relied entirely on Link Journalism to present the breaking news of Rob Blagojevich’s arrest in 2009. Writers crafted a one paragraph introduction, included a picture that was larger than the article and the links, and provided six headings, followed by links: background, criminal complaint, Fitzgerald’s take, video, photos, and reader comments. After the headings, there was no text, only external links that took the reader to other articles.
The controversy is this: Are you a journalist if you only practice Link Journalism? Is this a viable new part of the larger, constantly evolving definition of journalism? Or is this just a misunderstood, possibly underdeveloped concept?
I tend to lean toward the last possibility. I think that Link Journalism has legs. Albeit, examples such as Matt Drudge’s work are a cheap, almost laughable example of ANYTHING, there is something to be said for this. Perhaps Link Journalism is not a craft in its current state, but needs to be developed and defined in the same way that curriculum concepts or new reading strategies evolve over time. If the practice was more than just a collection, but a synthesis of existing content into a meaningful package, it might make sense.
While I cringe for the traditional journalist who is peering sideways at me now, I do recognize that this type of journalism is expanding and gaining traction. Perhaps the goal isn’t to stop it, but to define it, refine it, and structure operable parameters to judge quality and substance against.