BBC Online announced a new links policy for its news website the other day. There was some predictably snarky comment wondering why the BBC had taken so long to catch on.
The rules are a bit laborious, although a masterpiece of brevity compared to Wikipedia’s 5,000-word version. But the BBC’s policy change is a straw in the wind telling us about two important developments just over the horizon.
1. The more links to external sites that appear on stories on major news websites, the more top tomatoes in the news business are going to be brought face to face with a large issue which most of them don’t want to think about. The BBC or anyone else can’t link to complimentary or connected material without reminding users yet again how many stories are too similar for comfort. This is especially likely to happen if, as is mostly the case, linkage is automatic. Algorithms aren’t yet good at spotting or avoiding overlap.
In the pre-digital age, it was time-consuming and expensive to lay many different versions of the same event side by side and compare them. Only journalists did that. The web now allows anyone to hop, skip and jump between the media of different continents, channels and languages in seconds. The entropic tendency of 24/7 media to converge on the same facts, soundbites and pictures and to rearrange them a little for each “original” version is painfully obvious. The perception of the value of journalism is bound to suffer. And it has.