Forcing Hari to link only shows up how much the rest of the news industry doesn’t

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 6 June 2012

The rehabilitation of Johann Hari continues apace with the publication of a column from him in GQ. I’m no apologist for him - far from it - I was critical at the time.

But something struck me today.

I spotted several tweets pointing out that his column has footnotes linking out to sources for the things he talks about. I saw the word “forced”, like linking out marked out his untrustworthiness.

Only people in an industry that has habitually avoided linking out to the rest of the web could possibly see adding links and footnotes as a cruel and unusual punishment.

There is an alternative universe somewhere in which news organisations embraced the possibilities of hypertext immediately in the early nineties. Instead of seeing links as a potential drain of advertising eyeballs, they adopted them as a way to show credibility. To demonstrate that a piece was thoroughly researched. To trim the cost of re-writing background information out of their dwindling profit margins.

And in that alternative universe, Johann Hari would never have got away with the original acts that see him now “compelled” to have footnotes on his articles, because not linking to your sources would also be considered a journalistic crime.

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