On Linking

Blogdom’s wrathful hammer is coming down upon nytimes.com, and
other despotic reprobates that dare attempt to shirk the web’s unwritten Playground Code of linking to anything not of single origin to that which is behind your face.

Let’s take a step back. Blogging was born of the desire to comment openly, without the restrictions of editorial guidelines or passable print accreditation. Blogging isn’t original reporting, that’s something called “reporting,” whether it is done for the web or not.

The New York Times responds to Gothamist claims of unoriginality

Ironically, you can now have an actual blogging job for sites whose legitimacy belies the anti-establishment ethos that brought around their existence in the first place, but whose free verse and singular voice developed their own sort of mainstream-ness and positioned their content in a place where it demanded to be linked to at all.

That squared, the impetus for this post is another post. In an endlessly meta, MC Escher-esque loop, Glynnis MacNicol in a Mediaite post about the New York Time’s lack of blog linking, cites a column by the Times’ Clark Hoyt titled “Journalistic Shoplifting” that harangues plagiarism, in this case the online plagiarism of two of the Internet’s driest and most self-important blogs, the Times’ DealBook and its angst-addled competitor Dealbreaker. It might be noted that nowhere in either argument is the choice of calling yourself “Dealbreaker” while in direct position against a site called “DealBook” considered dubious.

In fisking Hoyt’s fisking of this more blatant plagiarism, MacNicol concludes that the entire controversy would have been easily sidestepped if DealBook had simply linked to Dealbreaker, eschewing its own reporting and acknowledging that Dealbreaker had the story. In doing so, MacNicol draws a connection between our working understanding of plagiarism and the misstep of not linking to previous blogging. She asserts: “linking should not be considered a sign of laziness, but smart blogging.”

She then smartly links to Reuter’s Felix Salmon and his estimation that this trouble is rooted in hiring inexperienced bloggers, a lack of skill that is not only laughable, but “dangerous,” and should be swiftly discriminated against:

Some journalists make good bloggers; most don’t. So rather than gamble that you’ve found one of the rare exceptions, why not make prior blogging experience a prerequisite for such positions?

The fundamental problem with Kouwe was that when he saw good stories elsewhere, he felt the need to re-report them himself, rather than simply linking to what he had found, as any real blogger would do as a matter of course.

Note that Salmon writes “felt the need to re-report” as a kind of tragic shortcoming, and “simply linking” as an action as obvious and right as shoveling food into your gullet when your stomach makes noise. Salmon, who is a blogger and a journalist, and is good at both, omits the mirror logic, that neither can all bloggers do journalism, dictating that blogging is somehow a more technical, formidable skill. As MacNicol rightly says, “linking is not brain surgery.”

Bloggers who are unduly feral on this stream of reasoning are laboring under the misplaced pretense that their product is not only wholly sui generis — apart from the wheezing old-guard publications they so gleefully gnaw — but would be better-off when those old guards are dispensed completely. This point has of course been voiced previously. Here I will link to a recent and unfortunate diatribe in which Gothamist.com publisher Jake Dobkin derides things like the Times’ “slavish devotion to originality,” and suggests print products echo his site’s achingly successful mantra: “less original reporting and more editorial curation.”

To be fair, that screed was widely received as the Onion send-up it reads like, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that its base impulses are not a minority opinion.

The fact is, these distinctions and lines in the sand are unnecessary. Journalism is good when it’s good, regardless of its destination. You need not bandy your loyalist colors one way of the other, Felix Salmon. The war is over. We all agree blogs are legitimate. But that a given property has picked up a story you are now writing on does not indefatigably necessitate that you link to it. This isn’t the gold rush. Marked territory is non-existant, and getting huffy because someone doesn’t acknowledge that you acknowledged a particular piece of news two hours earlier is not a defensible position.

– Max Lakin

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