Archive for May, 2010

Essay: The Role of the Hyperlink in Online Journalism

May 12, 2010

The Role of the Hyperlink in Online Journalism

In this essay I am going to discuss the role of the hyperlink in online journalism. To do this I will first briefly explain what a hyperlink is and where it appears in journalism. I will discuss how the hyperlink is used today, as well as how it can be used in journalism. I will also look into misuse of the link and the effects this has on online media.

A hyperlink is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “a connection that allows you to move easily between two computer documents or two pages on the Internet”.[1] In the context of online journalism it is a link included in an article online or a media website. Hyperlinks appear in most online media outlets, some online linking inside their own website, other such as blogs link to outside websites and material. Hyperlinks were firstly adopted by bloggers. Media outlets had a mindset that it was bad to link to other domains. Jay Rosen, an academic from NYU, says that they invented a set of rules for themselves in that they didn’t link to other sites for numerous reasons. One was that linking to other sites may have undermined the outlet, i.e. the Irish Times has all the information you want and there is no need to go to another site.[2]

One intriguing development when it comes to the hyperlink and its future use in online journalism comes in the form of a six law manifesto. The manifesto was drafted up by Kim Elmose, the blog editor of, and Lars K. Jensen, a project manager at They both encourage media outlets to adopt this manifesto and to use the points made freely. This manifesto came about after it was noticed that very little Scandinavian media outlets linked to material outside their own website (and such is true for many media outlets around the globe). [3] The manifesto is as follows:

“First law: linking to data used

Second law: linking directly and precisely

Third law: Precise about the information on the link – where it takes them to etc.

Fourth law: We recognise that an article consisting of precise links to information that represents different angles on an issue is a journalistic product.

Fifth law: open to inbound links

Sixth law: make it easier to link to their websites”[4]

Of course there are several issues that crop up with this manifesto, and it would be better as a guideline rather than a set of rules.

Hyperlinks promote participation, are more informative and give more access to a reader. It can be used for people to look up unfamiliar terms, give clarity and put stories in context. It can also link background information for a reader, so they can catch up with a story easily without having to go back and look up old news.[5] It can also be used, and is now in certain cases (such as the Washington post) to clear up issues with health or government stories that refer to medical studies or government reports that the reader is just taking for granted. With hyperlinks they can go straight to these documents and look at the information themselves, providing confidence in whatever site has published the information.[6]

One problem with hyper linking comes in the form of advertising and misleading links in media outlets. I will firstly discuss the problem with advertising. The online News association, a group of professional online journalists put it like this:

Responsible journalism on the internet means that the distinction between news and other information must be clear, so that individuals can readily distinguish independent editorial information from paid promotional information and other non-news” [7]

An example of this heavily mixed advertising and content would be a site such as On this website it is hard to distinguish between a news article and an advertising campaign for a tournament or website. The site is littered with advertisements.

A survey done that is included in the paper “Hyperlinking as Gatekeeping: online newspaper coverage of the execution of an American terrorist” showed that most papers websites linked to their advertisers’ websites and only a small percentage of these linked to outside sources. The reasoning behind linking to outside sources is to add depth, credibility and different angles to a news story.[8] In the paper, they give two reasons behind this. One is that it may be time consuming for the journalist, and secondly they may not have confidence in another websites material. The counter argument is that if given time to presenting useful and informative links in an article, it may enhance the article for the reader and provide a more in-depth look, if the reader so wishes.

One of the reasons media outlets give to not linking to other sites is for economic reasons and the idea that if someone leaves our domain they won’t come back. This doesn’t seem to be the case however according to Adrian Holovaty, editor of editorial innovations at the Washington Post. He claims that when sites see outside links as a threat they are not embracing the ideals of Online Journalism and the web. The argument he makes concerning this topics some up the idea that hyper linking is good for journalism well:

…editors who are afraid of linking to other sites clearly don’t trust the value of their content. If an editor of is really proud of his or her site, why on earth would he or she worry about users clicking away to other sites? Wouldn’t it make sense that a well-done site would be visited regularly by people who are interested in its contents? Where’s the trust? Where’s the professional pride?”[9]


The idea that a well linked site to quality information will bring people back more and more is one which, hopefully, will start to grow and be adopted properly by online media outlets. The more you send them away, the more they come back.

Online journalism can be improved highly by hyperlinks. When a hyperlink appears, it should provide good content which adds to the story. It should be clear that the link will be in context to what is written, or the reader should reasonably determine what the link will contain. The shortest amount of text should also be used to provide the “clue” of what the reader will expect. And the link should not mislead the reader into a site which is used for advertising or has little relevance to the story.[10]

In conclusion, it is clear that the role of the hyperlink in online journalism is to enhance a story and the media in a number of ways; add depth, credibility, different perspectives and to educate. When used correctly, it is also clear that the hyperlink achieves this and is a powerful tool to the online journalist. However it is also clear that if a media outlet wishes to use the hyperlink as journalism, they have to do so in an ethical and proper manner. There are instances where hyperlinks are pointless and irrelevant, or just an advertising mechanism. To sum up the role of the hyperlink, I quote Robyn Tomlins of Star News online;

“I firmly believe that we are much better served by linking out to other voices, sources and even competing news organizations than we are ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away. In the end, we all share a goal of informing and educating our community. While the web has opened up so many valuable sources of information for our journalists, it’s a shame if we ignore our competitors when we are curating the information that we think is relevant and valuable to people in our community.”[11]


  • Friend, C & Singer, J B 2007, Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions, M.E. Sharpe
  • Myers, G 2010, Discourse of Blogs and Wikis (Continuum Discourse), Continuum
  • Thurlow, D C & Lengel, L & Tomic, P A 2004, Computer Mediated Communication, Sage Publications Ltd

Online Sources:







[6] Friend, C & Singer, J B 2007, Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions, M.E. Sharpe p.193

[7] Friend, C & Singer, J B 2007, Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions, M.E. Sharpe

[8] Journalism Studies- Hyperlinking as Gatekeeping: online newspaper coverage of the execution of an American terrorist
Daniela V. Dimitrova a; Colleen Connolly-Ahern ; Andrew Paul Williams ; Lynda Lee Kaid ;Amanda Reid, Iowa State University, USA University of Florida, USA.**.pasc2

[9] Friend, C & Singer, J B 2007, Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions, M.E. Sharpe p. 194





May 12, 2010

Interactivity is a growing trend in online journalism. It provides a sense of participation for a reader and also expands on a story by giving it opinion as well as different angles. One site that is now interactive is the Guardians. People may comment on stories, although obviously it is monitered. They also include audio and visual clips on their site too. It is a step in the right direction for interactivity in Journalism.

Many othe sites have already adopted interactivity or will surely follow this trend soon.