Study: News websites link to themselves 91% of the time

International Journal of Communication
Mainstream news organizations use hyperlinks to add context to their pieces, says a study by Mark Coddington at the University of Texas at Austin. Independent bloggers are more likely to use links socially or as a way to frame their arguments. Coddington borrows the term “j-bloggers” from Jane B. Singer to describe journalists at mainstream news organizations who blog, and those hybrids appropriately fall between the other two categories, he found.

In follow-up interviews with bloggers and editors, Coddington found that mainstream news outlets were philosophically much more open to linking anywhere. But in practice they linked internally 91 percent of the time. In contrast, independent bloggers linked internally 18 percent of the time. Ninety-three percent of news outlets’ links were to other news outlets, while indie bloggers linked to mainstream sources only 33 percent of the time.

Coddington’s study considered six sources in each of his three categories.

News sites “overwhelmingly expressed philosophies of openness regarding the sources of their links,” Coddington found, “and they were emphatic about their willingness to link both outside of their news organizations, and outside of traditional media sources.” But:

As we have seen and will examine further, however, these linking philosophies have yet to be borne out in the actual linking practices of mainstream news organizations, particularly outside of their blogging content.

As it stands, Coddington writes, “this practice also locates the nexus of online authority largely within the same institutions that constitute it offline.”

For the indie bloggers, “the link takes on a set of meanings that is more social and oriented around the immediate.” Links are ways of crediting others’ ideas, encouraging the blogosophere as a whole and also for framing arguments:

Despite this social camaraderie embedded in bloggers’ linking values, they are also much more inclined than traditional journalists to use links to frame their discourse in conflictual ways. Bloggers combine links to politically strident sources with language that either defends or mocks those sources’ values to frame readers’ understanding of issues as a debate or struggle against political and rhetorical adversaries.

What Coddington calls the “negotiation between competing conceptions of links” gets more complicated “as the boundaries between news organizations, independent bloggers, and j-bloggers become more porous.” The j-bloggers were looser than their parent organizations about linking to opinion-based sources, but they “directed nearly half of their links (47%) to more fact-based sources, more than either independent bloggers (35%) or news sites (30%).”

Coddington sees a way forward through synthesis:

News sites’ links open the door to a valuable contextual resource for curious readers, but they reinforce a strict perimeter on the realm of acceptable discourse on public issues. Conversely, political blogs’ links help to foster the sociability and networked openness of the Web, but they often keep news events from being connected to larger issues. By embracing both the connectivity and the contextual potential of hyperlinks, both news organizations and blogs can contribute to a richer network of information on the Web.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi, I’m the author of the study. Those structural links were not included in the analysis – only links within the text of the story itself. Links in sidebars, bylines (i.e. links to authors’ email addresses), “related stories” lists, and photos or infographics were not part of the study.

  • Neil Ferree

    Maybe this is why “guest blogging” on News Sites is becoming more main steam these days?

  • Anonymous

    I think part of this is the structural difference created by the different ways bloggers and mainstream news orgs produce content. For example, if the mainstream news organization creates a big package, this would have a main story, perhaps several sidebars, and info graphic or two, and photos. All of these when put on the website would be connected by links. The package may also have a list at the end of the story of the past stories the news organization has done on the same topic. A blogger likely would not have that many pieces on any story he or she produced, and so no structural links between pieces are needed, and adding links to past stories is also something that here she would likely have less time to do. I would be interested in seeing the results of this survey with such structural links omitted.

  • Bruce Bartlett

    One of the problems the media have today is credibility. Links can build credibility by taking readers to primary sources where they can confirm for themselves the truth of what a writer is saying. 

  • Rishabh Mishra

    This is not surprising. Websites have a monetary incentive to link to themselves, because if users click those links, the website earns more ad revenue.

    Furthermore, there is not anything inherently bad about this practice because any interested reader can still search the open Internet for information outside of the news organization. Furthermore, the practice of self-linking for more ad revenue ensures that the content can be provided to the reader for free. Finally, news websites likely have more relevant in-house content that they can link to, while independent blogs need to rely on outside sources for the same linked information.

    The great thing about the Internet is that you *can* link to others. It does not mean that you have to, or that linking to others is always superior.

  • Bruce Bartlett

    In my experience, links added by publications, as opposed to those provided by the author, tend more to be of the self-promotion variety rather than genuine efforts to provide useful information. I fear that this may turn readers off to links entirely, which would be tragic. As it is, based on comments I get to my work, almost nobody clicks on links as it is. I know because they keep asking questions that links were provided precisely to answer.