If the New York Times won’t, maybe Google will.
I’m talking about pointing to original research: something I’m very interested
in with my Report Report Report. (There have been quite a few articles I’ve
wanted to write an RRR on, but haven’t been able to get the original paper.)
This week, the NYT’s science editor, Laura Chang, is answering questions from
readers. I asked her why the NYT’s web stories couldn’t provide links to original
research, or why the NYT couldn’t even host copies of the research itself if
the authors were amenable, which they often would be. She didn’t answer my question
directly, but she answered
a very similar one:
I, like several readers who asked similar questions, also wish our articles
could include specific links to sources. We’re working on it, but it’s a more
difficult goal than we imagined. It can be a tedious job to insert such references
into articles, raising a basic question of best use of our reporters’ time.
This is a terrible answer. I admit that I don’t know how easy or difficult
it is to insert a hyperlink in a NYT news story, but I suspect it’s not quite
as hard as Chang makes out. But even if it is "a tedious job", journalists
should do it anyway.
The job of a journalist on the New York Times or at any newspaper is to serve
the paper’s readers. Most of the time, that means doing classically journalistic
things like interviewing sources and crafting clear and compelling stories.
And some of the time it means doing things which can be tedious: waiting outside
a courthouse for a defendent to emerge, for instance, or making sure that hyperlinks
go into stories.
The New York Times claims that nytimes.com is not simply the paper version
of the newspaper put up on the internet: it’s a web-based news source unto itself.
And certainly nytimes.com gets orders of magnitude more readers than the paper
version does. So it’s frankly stupid for journalists to do all manner of tedious
things for a paper story but to draw the line at creating a hyperlink.
The fact is that if you’re writing about a scientific report, and the report
is available online, you should link to it. Always.
But if the New York Times won’t maybe Google will: we now have Google
Scholar, which looks wonderful. I can’t wait to test it out for my next
Report Report Report.