Linking and the Pussy Riot Story

Linking in news articles is a wildly under-appreciated craft, with many news organizations turning over this critical editorial task to algorithms rather than editors. Today’s sentencing of punk band Pussy Riot in Russia is top news this morning on most national sites, and is a perfect example of how links contribute to the editorial voice of a brand. For example, a quick look at a few of the top sites at 10:30 a.m. ET shows that is the only site linking from their story straight to the video that caused the ruckus in the first place.
The New York Times:

“The saga began in February when the women infiltrated Moscow’s main cathedral wearing colorful balaclavas, and pranced around in front of the golden Holy Doors leading into the altar, dancing, chanting and lip-syncing for what would later become a music video of a profane song in which they beseeched the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Mr. Putin.

Security guards quickly stripped them of their guitars, but the video was completed with splices of footage from another church.”

These two links are among the five in the story. The other three are links to Times Topics pages on Russia, Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The departure text in the story is a bit unclear to me. Links should usually be brief nouns, and I know what I’m getting when I click on “music video”, but I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting when I clicked on “video was completed”. That verb in the departure text made me think it would be a video of the act of completing, or a story about the completing done at the time of completion.

I need to follow up with two questions to the Times. I wonder why there are two links to what at first glance appear to be essentially the same videos. But I also wonder what was the editorial thinking behind linking to the videos in the first place — since clearly others either chose not to do so, or simply didn’t think about the option — and the reason they link to the Russian language versions rather than versions that have an English subtitle. The words in the video are offensive — ones that I’ll bet a good deal of money that the Times wouldn’t print online or on paper. Did they have concerns about linking to offensive language? Is that a reason they didn’t link to the English version?

Newspapers often make choices about what not to link. The Times — and most other papers — didn’t link to video of reporter Daniel Pearl’s beheading. The differences may seem obvious to you. Even if they do, it is important for journalism students and professionals to be able to articulate to themselves and others the differences between a Pussy Riot video and a beheading video.

Finally, I wonder whether there was conversation about the implications that linking to these videos might have on The Times’ ability to distribute the story in Russia or on its ability to report there.

USA Today

The site has a very brief story right now, with only three internal links to topics pages — one on the Virgin Mary, another on Putin and another on Pussy Riot. An interesting mix.

The Huffington Post

Often held up an example of “webby” news production, The Huffington Post story has no links in its story. It seems as if its readers would be better served with links.
Yahoo News

Yahoo’s story has more links than any other, and most of them go offsite. And while they link to a video of another video that got Pussy Riot in trouble, they don’t link to the video that’s at the center of today’s story.

The lead graph links to the band’s Live Journal website, and several links throughout the story go to source material — such as Paul McCartney’s statement in support of Pussy Riot — or go to other media sites. Yahoo links both to NPR, The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, The Week, Wikipedia, and Reuters. It’s an example of one media company benefiting from the reporting of others by curating their stories — and I say that without judgment one way or the other.

NBC News & CNN

This site has long had a style of putting links to related stories in-line between paragraphs, rather than off to the site where the click-through rate is — or at least was at one time — about half of the in-line click-through rate. It continues that editorial voice here, which is a decision to make links not part of the narrative, but a diversion from it. This is not a single multi-linear story, but several adjacent pieces of related articles.

CNN’s story follows the same editorial construction.

What do you think?

What’s the right way to link in this story? Why? Share your comments below, or send them to @rtburg

For More on Linking

See Chapter 7 of my book, Producing Online News