Update

I finally updated my dissertation abstract, which now reflects how my research project has evolved over the past months. Here it is (and for archeology’s sake, here is a link to the old 2009 version (pdf)) :

The possibility to add hyperlinks to news items is one of the key elements distinguishing online journalism from its offline counterparts. Since the beginnings of the world wide web, hyperlinks are said to improve the quality of news in several ways. For instance, by pointing directly to sources, they guarantee transparency as well as credibility. By leading to a virtually infinite variety of opinions, they ensure diversity. But even though a consensus exists on the alleged qualities of linking for online journalism, previous research has repeatedly highlighted that news sites link scarcely and therefore fail to fully embrace hyperlinking.

My research project is threefold. First, it aims at systematically investigating the promises associated with links for online journalism through a qualitative discourse analysis of online journalism textbooks and interviews with educators. Secondly, it takes stock of the current linking situation, with a focus on the cases of websites of the Belgian francophone daily press. It particularly investigates how many links are proposed, where they are to be found, and which genres of sites they are leading to. Finally, I will carry out ethnographic inquiries into the concerned newsrooms, in order to understand the diversity of factors influencing the decision to add links (or not to do so) to news items.

Comprehensively studying hyperlinks represents an enlightening way of grasping what is at stake in today’s online news production. If links are ultimately about a complex set of commercial interests, organizational orders, professional routines, journalistic identities, technical constraints, and so on, linking constitutes a unique lens through which modern online journalism can be understood and assessed.

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