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Columbia Missourian

The embedded link is an important part of today's journalism report

By Jake Sherlock
August 28, 2009 | 4:45 p.m. CDT

For many newspaper purists, the best part of the day is digging into the morning edition with a cup of coffee.

But if you want to do some serious digging, put the newspaper down and take your cup of coffee over to your computer. That’s where you can really move some dirt.

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Case in point: Andrew Del-Colle’s column this week explored the impact a car like the Chevy Volt, which runs on a lithium battery, could have on the globe. It was fascinating to read, not to mention extremely well researched. By following all the links Andrew had embedded in the column, I was not only able to verify his research, but I learned a few things myself.  

Going into that column, I didn’t know one thing about the lithium batteries that power the Volt. I did not know how they were made or what kind of impact a boom in this sector could have on the global economy. By the end of that column, my mind was swimming with all sorts of possibilities.

Therein lies the beauty of the embedded link. It easily allows reporters to show readers where they found information. As an editor, it saves me time when verifying that the information presented is correct – I don’t have to search for the information; I just click the link and verify.

But as a reading tool, the embedded link is even more powerful. It allows all of us to discover angles and information we may not have otherwise known about. The embedded link says to readers, to quote journalism scholar Jay Rosen, “I’m interested in this, but did you also know about that?”

That illustrates the culture of the Web. The Web, at its core, is a series of informational pages held together by a series of links. Once you jump in and start exploring, you’re bound to find a treasure trove of information.

The job of the journalist, within this culture, is to determine which information is accurate and which is relevant. In other words, the job journalists should already be doing.

Yet, many news outlets run counter to this Web culture and won’t embed links unless it’s to other areas of their own sites. To a degree, this makes sense. If you have good information in your own archive, you may as well use it.

But if the best information lies beyond a news outlet’s own Web domain, why withhold that information from readers? Besides determining accuracy and relevancy, a journalist’s job is to make the news experience as easy on readers as possible.

In print, you see Web addresses all the time, especially in calendar listings. Want to know more about the upcoming event? Newspapers often list Web sites you can go to for more information. Web sites should go that extra step and make it an easy, clickable link. In my mind, it’s a matter of customer service.

We don’t always remember to embed links in our stories at the Missourian, but we’ve gotten a lot better over the past year. In time, I hope you’ll find ColumbiaMissourian.com to be a good starting point for your daily dig into the news.

We may not always have everything you’re looking for, but at the very least we should be able to help you find it.

 — Jake

Jake Sherlock is the Missourian's opinion section editor. He enjoys talking with readers and encourages you to call him at (573) 882-9951, to e-mail him at SherlockJ@missouri.edu, or to tweet him up on Twitter.