5: To link or not to link

To link or not to link, that is the question.
Or at least is was.
A dozen years ago the newspaper world was mired in debate over whether online newspapers should link to outside sites or try to keep readers on their own site.
Not too long ago news sites had a proprietary view of their content.
"The focus was on collecting eyeballs and any link that sent readers offsite was frowned upon," wrote media expert Mark Glaser.
Heaven help you if you bypassed a paper's homepage and linked to a story inside, a practice known as deep linking.
In fact as recently as 2004, newspapers where suing those that bypassed their homepage.
Today polices are reflecting the modern reality of the web and are more relaxed. And more thorough.
Mike Nesbitt, the Toronto Sun's general manager of new media, sums it up best."We are a content creator so we link to our site. If we don't have it, we go to Canoe.ca [the portal for Quebecor and Sun Media]. We are also partnered with other media organizations," said Nesbitt in a phone interview.
"We are not in the business of publishing other company's content. I think that's the norm for producers of content."
Nesbitt echoes the Online Journalism Review position when he says the Sun's underlying goal is to add information that is relevant to the reader.
If that means sending someone off to the the Canadian Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control in the middle of a SARS story, then so be it.
"NYTimes.com has a halfway solution," writes Poynteronline media business annalist Rick Edmonds.
"In a foreign affairs story, for instance, you are likely to find hotlinks from 'Condoleezza Rice' to other recent news stories and some background pieces. But all of those stories are from The New York Times."
In a recent survey I did of Canadian online dailies, 47 per cent linked to any site they deemed important, 40 per cent only linked outside of their site in exceptional circumstances and 13 per cent didn't link.
Doug Firby, the Calgary Herald's editor of digital content development, believes his paper has the answer.
All links—news, ads, e-mail addresses—open a new browser window, he says.
The reader then has the readily available option of returning to the Herald's home site, Firby says.
At most Canadian papers, providing sites to link to is the responsibility of reporters and photographers.
However, copy editors and the final people to see the story, the online editors, add links if they were needed.
The BBC doesn't worry about whose responsibility linking is. Their site is fully automated.
The BBC uses a computer program called Newstracker that identifies content from other sites that relate to a BBC story. "If we find a match, we can provide a link directly from our story to the story on the external site," reads their policy page.
What can a news provider do when Matt Drudge or the BBC or a news aggregator deep links to their site?
Philiadelphia's nbc10.com thinks they have a solution to keeping readers.
"If you came from the Drudge Report to read this article, check out these other recent NBC 10 stories that received national attention. . . . Grandmom Allegedly Leaves Baby In Burning Truck; Teen Allegedly Ate Pizza, Watched TV During Triple Murder."
It may not be a perfect solution, but according to Poynter, it's the best out there so far.

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