July 17, 2012

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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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
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