Jerf to MSM: Links, Or It Didn't Happen!

I can prove the News Media, or the "MSM" if you like, is not about news. I really do mean "prove". It's quite simple.

If the media were about informing you, they would try to bring you as much information possible. They would also bring you a filtered version of the information, but as all filtering is inevitably lossy, they would bring you the raw data as well so you can make your own decision.

That's a simple logical implication statement; do you accept it? (If not, ignore the rest of this post.)

Next statement: They are not so informing us. We continue to see online news stories that may quote from tens of people, reference several documents, and bring together the reporting of several news institutions, without one single HTML link. We see editorials that quote statistics, but have no link. We see controversies about single quotes in the middle of speeches arise, but no links to the speeches.

This should also be an agreeable statement.

After that, the logic is inescapable: The news media is not about informing you. The inescapable logic can be followed a bit further, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

I do not have a problem with the newspaper or evening video news; the limitations of the format make this effectively impossible. I have a problem with the online news sites, regardless of their heritage.

The thing that makes this post-worthy is the timing. "News organizations can link to primary sources" is hardly a novel idea; you couldn't throw a stone in 1996 without hitting an editorial about how inevitable this was. But you see, in 1996, when any news organization online was just testing the waters, this lack of linking made sense. Odds are the primary sources weren't online anyhow, even as text, so I understood. In 2000, I understood; big organizations do not turn on a dime. In 2005, perhaps I still understood; online video was still a sick joke.

But this is 2008, the YouTube age. Video online is practical and will not get less so. Audio is so cheap it's hardly worth accounting for. It's a near certainty your primary source is online in some form. And still... no links. Here I am calling for organizations like CNN to host their sources, and they can't even be bothered to link.

Consider this article currently on CNN's homepage, as I write this. It's about a report from the World Health Organization. There is not a single link to the World Health Organization. Not even the homepage! Oh, the first instance of the WHO acronym is linked, sure enough, but only back to CNN. And let's not even hope for a link to the actual report. In fact, they almost seem to go out of their way to make certain you can't find the primary source. I think the report they are discussing is the World Health Statistics 2008, although I can't actually be certain since the name of the report is not mentioned directly! (The WHO is somewhat unclear on the release date, I can't seem to find that on their website, but it seems to match.) I flipped through that report, though, and the closest thing I could find was on page 30 of the report (page 34 of the PDF), a table of mortality reasons in 2004 and projected mortality reasons in 2030.

The real point here isn't whether I've found the right report, the real point here is that I can't even really be sure.

Proof of how easy this really is? How often the "amateurs" get it right. Consider this blog post I just happened to stumble across. I would normally not even have noticed the beautiful linkage if I wasn't primed for it today, but look at that! Links every which way. How hard can it be?

It's time for the press to join the 21st century and start routinely providing links to primary sources from outside of the organization. No more delay. It's time to join the 21st century and start routinely hosting your primary sources when appropriate. No more excuses. Your news conferences, your raw camera footage, transcripts of entire interviews instead of a 10 second soundbite from the hour-long interview, links to endless nebulous "reports", exact names and authors of the torrent of nebulous "studies", give them to us.

Links, or it didn't happen!