Primary sources? You don’t need ’em. Trust us.

When the inspector general of the US Department of Justice issues a special report, it tends to make news. The latest report, a dissection of the FBI’s use of “national security letters” under the Patriot Act, is no exception. References to this report are everywhere in the news today. But links to the report are less plentiful.

I made the chart below by scanning the first three pages of Google’s cluster of stories on this topic. After eliminating duplicates, I found 12 sites linking to the original report and 42 sites not linking.

In the blogosophere, you could scarely imagine mentioning a publicly-available report without also linking to it (e.g., Technorati, Bloglines). But in the mainstream media, it’s still the exception rather than rule.

(PS: I went to junior high school with the DOJ’s inspector general, whose name is Glenn Fine. I’ve mused before about the anomaly that makes my web presence so much larger than his. But in the real world, he’s the one who commands the respect of the US attorney general. Way to go, Glenn!)

(PPS: Ryan Tomayko was surprised to see that any of the sites linked to the report. It’s a good point. Things are progressing.)

Sites linking to the DOJ report: 12 Sites NOT linking to the DOJ report: 42
charlotte.com

www.businessweek.com

www.chron.com

www.ft.com

www.guardian.co.uk

www.helenair.com

www.journaltimes.com

www.kansascity.com

www.npr.org

www.nytimes.com

www.redding.com

www.theglobeandmail.com

abcnews.go.com

english.people.com.cn

in.today.reuters.com

news.bostonherald.com

online.wsj.com

sportsillustrated.cnn.com

timesofindia.indiatimes.com

www.570news.com

www.abcnews.go.com

www.baltimoresun.com

www.boston.com

www.canada.com

www.casperstartribune.net

www.centredaily.com

www.chicagotribune.com

www.chinapost.com.tw

www.columbusdispatch.com

www.dailynews.com

www.detnews.com

www.forbes.com

www.foxnews.com

www.guardian.co.uk

www.guelphmercury.com

www.helenair.com

www.kansascity.com

www.kentucky.com

www.latimes.com

www.mlive.com

www.msnbc.msn.com

www.myfoxdc.com

www.newsday.com

www.nysun.com

www.pressofatlanticcity.com

www.smh.com.au

www.startribune.com

www.tbo.com

www.time.com

www.washingtonpost.com

www.wfaa.com

www.whbf.com

www.wstm.com

16 Comments

  1. In conversations with various editors over the years I’ve found a couple of disturbing attitudes and patterns about things like exposing the primary source to readers.

    The first attitude I’d characterize as “We Know Best.” This attitude is epitomized by the writer who has done all the thinking. In it, reading a newspaper is fundamentally a passive activity where the reader is exposed to whatever implicit or explicit bias the writers and editors have, and exposure to contrary bias/opinion should be limited to the throw-away quote. Exposure to primary material changes the passive activity to an activity, which is a Bad Thing.

    A second attitude (which for me is scarier) is “We Didn’t Know You Could Do That.” Link to an original source? Really?? We can do that? And people will actually read the source material?? Wow. A note to this class of writer and editors: spend sixty seconds and use your favorite search engine to find some original materials and link to them.

    A third attitude is, “Readers Will Figure Out How to Find The Source Material.” Yes, they will. Make it easier, please: link.

    The fourth attitude I’ve heard is “Once You’ve Got ‘Em, Never Let ‘Em Go.” In this one, the idea is that people will go to a particular newspaper’s site and just stay there, clicking around the links on that site to other links on that site.

  2. It would be interesting to see if there are listed conventions for writers regarding external linking to content — especially for deep linking such as PDF, DOC, or other content. Perhaps an editor ultimately control this and get to nix a desire to link.

    I wonder if there is a legal risk to linking if it leads someone to the wrong place?

    Is there a concern that “deep linking” is still some kind of publishing bogeyman?

    Would deep linking to a specific document that relates to “matters of national security” be considered risky? (assuming talking heads would gloss past such content being available on an unsecured or obfuscated website location)

  3. “Some in your articles cited in your list (such as businessweek.com) link to the DOJ home page–from which it’s nearly impossible to find the report.”

    Absolutely right. I scanned only for http://www.usdoj.gov and http://www.justice.gov, rather than for the specific URL, in order to give the benefit of doubt. A stricter scan would have yielded a worse outcome.

  4. “Would deep linking to a specific document that relates to “matters of national security” be considered risky?”

    Not when the document is published, however ineptly, on the DOJ’s website, as required (I presume) by law.

  5. The idea behind my “Participatory Deliberation” project is that “primary documents” can be *cough* de-constructed to provide the raw material for something like the “glass beads” in Hesse’s “Magister Ludi”.

    Arguments from authority (aka “arguments from the book”) are, I think, anethema to public discourse. And yet, and yet …

    What concerns me about the blogosphere is that despite the dynamical stability provided by it’s “feed-back / feed-forward” nature it will go into a self-verifying stasis. Without credible (authoritative?) input it gets stale and becomes an elaborate mutual admiration society.

    FWIW I think the survival of print journals is prime. With the possible exception of occasional government docs (which aren’t always discoverable; semantic web anybody? (grin*) and publically funded research papers (which aren’t always accessible; see SW above) they are the raw grist for the mill. (I’m seeing more transcripts from TV shows … that’s all very very good.)

    Pre-digested is not good for us … over-processed is not good for us … we need ruffage daily. And primary documents provide that.

  6. So, should industry analysts also follow this same advice. You may notice that firms such as The 451 Group, Elemental Links, The Burton Group and Redmonk link while Gartner and the larger guys don’t.

  7. I thought it was funny when a particular event involving my blog broke, it was mentioned in something like 176 newspapers via an AP feed that mentioned the name of my blog, but not the address.

    People were saying — the thing you posted has been covered in the Washington Post! In USA Today! In the Seattle PI! You must be swamped!

    Nope. Barely got 500 hits out of the whole thing, and most of those coming from Google, with, you guessed it, people searching on the name of the blog.

  8. I very much agree with the value of original data and proper citation. Had you only reported a count of the two classes of sites, I would not have noticed that: there are only 41 sites listed in the “not linking” column (not 42), three sites are on both lists (www.guardian.co.uk, http://www.helenair.com, http://www.kansascity.com), and there is a duplicate in the “not linking” column (abcnews.go.com, http://www.abcnews.go.com). These observations don’t change the substance of the story, but in another context they might.

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