Mapping journalistic conversations about hyperlinks, 1997-2012

The present post attempts to introduce and contextualize the Map of journalistic conversations about hyperlinks, 1997-2012, which is part of an ongoing research project (and also the topic of my presentation at the ECREA 2012 conference in Istanbul and of another presentation I made at the Neo-Journalism Conference in Brussels).

My research is about the role of linking in journalistic production processes, and a part of it focuses on the meta-journalistic discourses about hyperlinks. That is, what journalists say about their own practices of integrating hyperlinks in the news.

When it comes to discussing the merits, pitfalls and subtleties of linking, some lively debates often take place in the online journalism community. These conversations are not particularly centralized or institutionalized: they arise in blog posts, Twitter feeds, professional publications, media columns — or any other venue where journalists and experts converse about the present and future of online journalism.

Such conversations are located in many different venues, but they are also thematically fragmented. It’s not as if journalists and experts had suddenly decided to all gather to have the final, exhaustive conversation about the role of linking in the news. The topic emerges when there’s a relevant case to chew over: this news site forgot to add a link to a source, this aggregator is hiding links at the bottom of its articles, this court ruled that some links are copyright infringements, this rogue marketing company is trying to buy links from honest journalists, …

So I needed some kind of big picture, in order to know — very simply — who said what, when, in what context. The when might be extra important here, as links are not exactly the newest technological development, they exist since the advent of the web and have always been part of news sites.

This is why I started to collect any document I could find on the topic of links in the news. By systematically exploring some privileged venues where online journalism is expertly discussed (that is: CJR,OJR, Poynter and the Nieman Lab), selecting the relevant documents and then serendipitously navigating the links they contain (yes, that’s using the links to study what people say about links — how meta) I achieved a dataset of 200+ items, ranging from 1997 to 2012.

The dataset is certainly not exhaustive, as exploring the historical depth of the web is not exactly easy (I’m very grateful for the Wayback Machine, though). But I believe it gives a fair overview of how the conversations journalists have about links have evolved over time. You can interactively explore it by using this map, which represent all the documents and their mutual links. For each document, the map displays the author, the title, the date and a precious URL that allows you to go explore the conversations by yourself.

The map is just a somewhat fancy way to explore and show the dataset I use to re-build a history of the journalistic hyperlink. It goes with actual research, such as this paper (PDF – only in French for the moment, sorry for my linguistic schizophrenia) that takes a descriptive, chronological approach ; and another paper I’m working on which carries out a thematic, transversal analysis. It’s a first version that might still be buggy, and I hope to improve the map — by adding other relevant metadata for example, or by integrating a thematic layer on it. Comments are of course more than welcome.

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