One way I like to use Google News is to quickly compare how different news venues cover the same story. This morning I did that with coverage of the newly released final report from the White House Commission of the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Here’s the thing: When a news story hinges on a document that’s available online, where is the the best place (and what is the best way) to present that link in an online news story? Are source links even necessary or desirable?
There are various ways to approach this quandary…
Others took the indirect approach they first linked from the news story to related backgrounders or stories on their own site. Some of these included direct links to the report (i.e., CNN).
Some provided a direct link at the very bottom of the story (i.e., AP via SFgate.com).
MY ADVICE: PUT THE LINK RIGHT UP TOP
Personally, I favor including a direct link to the source document right up top, next to or just below the headline and byline (i.e., the Guardian and the Globe and Mail). Be obvious about it. Don’t bury it in the page, or camouflage it with clutter.
Such a straightforward positioning strategy not only serves readers who are naturally curious it actively encourages personal exploration and involvement in the news. It encourages news audiences to ask their own questions, to do their own research, and to form their own opinions. It indicates that the news organization is a part of, and partner in, people’s efforts to understand their world.
It’s the opposite of the relatively dictatorial approach to news that was so common in the 20th century where the implicit message was: “We’re telling you everything you need to know. You’re not qualified to investigate further. Don’t bother. Just listen to us.”
In short, presenting direct source links right up top is an easy, subtle, practical way to generate a whole lot of public goodwill. As the media market continues to splinter, the strength of public goodwill will likely make or break many currently established news organizations.
Smart news organizations will shift their mindsets, processes, and presentations to provide much more than prepackaged stories or detailed cul-de-sacs. They’ll provide direct access and guidance. They’ll stop talking down to their audiences, and start treating them as partners in exploration.