Support journalism at its source

Supporting journalism at its source should be a moral imperative for anyone who depends upon that journalism: reporters, editors, news organizations, bloggers. It’s just enlightened self-interest: Link unto others as you’d wish they’d link unto you. And it is the basis, I believe, of the architecture of the news industry in the future: News organizations should do what they do best and link to the rest. And when they do their best, they should hope that others will link to them. Thanks to the economics of the web this is how journalism will be supported — with links.

The industry isn’t architected that way now: Newspapers and TV shows replicate the work of others so they can say they did it themselves (when, in truth, they’re merely leeching off the prior art and rarely advancing it). Wire services grab this original content and syndicate it under their logos — a model that made perfect sense when we couldn’t read the news around the world, at its source, with the speed of a click. Bloggers have an ethic of linking to the journalism they write about. News organizations don’t.

And that, as Matthew Ingram point out, is the problem with the wire services’ deal with Google that enables the aggregator to now display full stories not from the source but from the wires, which usually copy from and distribute the work of the source. A commenter on Matthew’s blog gives him a real-life example: the AP picked up a unique story from the Nashua, NH, Telegraph and that’s what Google displayed — along with other AP clients’ versions — above the original story from the paper. Now I know that the AP has been sensitive to this in many cases; they’re not out to hurt their own members and clients.

Nonetheless, the Google deal does rob traffic, thus revenue, from the paper that invested in journalism. And that will not help sustain journalism.

Note that the Nashua editor chuckles because picked up the story and linked to the original — we pride ourselves in that in this world — and sent it good traffic. So Fark served journalism better than the wires and Google. That is telling.

This is not a matter of just credit and pride. This is about supporting journalism at its source.

And it wouldn’t be hard to do. Whenever reporters at a wire service — or a newspaper, web site, TV station, magazine, or blog — sit down to write a story, they should include links to their source material, whether that is others’ stories or web sites or original documents . . . or even, yes, Wikipedia. We bloggers do it, it’s not hard. If they’re writing this for online, the links should appear as they do in blog posts. If for some other, older medium, then they should at least be available online.

It’s only right.