Help change the Northfield News’ practice of not linking to local gov’t, school, and non-profit web sites

I spent a couple hours yesterday afternoon with the Carleton students who are in the journalism class that’s publishing Pressville… which I took to task last week (Pressville stories miss the new journalism boat). One student asked me if I had similar criticisms of the Northfield News. Oh yeah.

Northfield News banner I had an email exchange with Publisher Sam Gett and Regional Editor Jaci Smith last June, asking them, for the record, what their policy was on linking to area websites from articles on their website, as well as including web addresses in articles in the print edition. Here’s the transcript:

Publisher Sam Gett replied:

Hi Griff,

We don’t have a formal policy on links and web addresses.

Regional Editor Jaci Smith replied:

Griff, I assume by “on the record,” you mean my response will be posted on your blog?

The newspaper handles links on a case by case basis, depending on several factors, including time, interest to our readership and our technical expertise and capabilities.

What’s your “policy”?

I replied to both:

Sam, you may not have a formal policy but you must be operating by some guidelines. For example:

  • Instead of linking to the City Admin Friday memo, you download the PDF to your own website and then link to that in an online story. A link would take 10 seconds to create but this approach involves several minutes requiring FTP. Why not just link to it?
  • You run a great story on War Kids Relief but don’t mention their website nor link to it. The site is crucial to the success of their project. Why not mention the URL in print and link to it online?

Jaci, yes, ‘on the record’ means exactly that.  And our policy is link link link.

Regional Editor Jaci Smith replied:

Griff,

Sorry you find the answer unsatisfactory. And as a reader, we appreciate your feedback.

As I said before, we handle links on a case by case basis.

I replied to Jaci:

Jaci, I understand, you don’t have a policy.

What, then, was the rationale for how these two cases were handled?

Regional Editor Jaci Smith replied:

Griff,

I believe I’ve explained why we put the PDF up of the city administrator’s memo before. I believe it is easier for our web site visitors to look at the PDF rather than be clicked through to another site.

As for the War Kids Relief story, I agree it would’ve been nice to have a link. I am unsure why we didn’t but it is easily fixed. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

I replied to Jaci:

Jaci,

One click on your link to the City Admin memo on your site brings up the PDF in the web browser window. The exact same thing would happen if you linked to the memo on the City’s site.  There’s no difference in the ease of use for your site visitor.

I’m glad to hear you’ll link to the War Kids Relief site.

Can you do the same for the JuneBug story at:
http://northfieldnews.com/news.php?viewStory=48831

using http://www.northfieldjunebug.com/

The online versions of their War Kids Relief story and the JuneBug story were amended to include the web addresses but notice that they did NOT make the links clickable.

No links to schools, government entities, or non-profit organizations.

Here are recent examples of Northfield News articles that could have included helpful links: 

No links to businesses

The newspaper doesn’t link to area businesses either, not even those who advertise with them. Example:

No links to citizen journalists

The newspaper doesn’t link to the posts of any area bloggers (Northfield.org blogosphere page).

No linking allowed in discussion comments

The newspaper doesn’t allow commenters on its site to include links, even when it’s helpful to the discussion of a civic issue. Example:

Locally Grown’s Tracy Davis, in her role as a member of the Planning Commission-Zoning Board of Appeals, added a comment to that article that included a link to her very detailed LG blog post, Zoning Board of Appeals decision on old Tires Plus property. Regional Editor Jaci Smith replied:

Tracy,

Thanks for joining our site. We are always happy when someone in a leadership position in the community, as you are in your work on the Planning Commission, jumps into the discussion.

Given that you were also quoted in our story, we think expanding on what you said there would be valuable. Along those lines, I’d like to respectfully request you post the text of your comments here on our site instead of a link.

Our preference is to keep people on our site and reading whenever possible.

Thanks and welcome!

There’s plenty more to criticize (for example) about the newspaper – and there’s plenty to like, too (for example).

But as the monopoly newspaper in the area, I think the Northfield News has a responsibility as part of its civic mission to better inform its readers by providing contextual links to the area’s schools, government entities, and non-profit organizations in its articles.  (Yes, links to businesses and the blogosphere would be nice but we can wait for those.)

If MinnPost can do it (good example here), and MPR can do it (good example here), and the NY Times can do it (good example here), so can the Northfield News.

If you agree, contact them (via phone or email) or use their contact us form.

29 thoughts on “Help change the Northfield News’ practice of not linking to local gov’t, school, and non-profit web sites”

  1. Griff : In Jaci’s response to Tracy the ‘story’ is told: “Our preference is to keep people on our site and reading whenever possible.”

    ‘Nuff said?

  2. Griff: To be honest I really do not have a strong feeling either way on the News linking to other websites in their stories. Do other papers do this; Strib or the Pioneer Press?

    The main issue I had with the News and their linking policy came when they posted their community links section and did not have links for the Historical Society or the Arts Guild. And the reason this really ticked me off was they had links to the Rice County Historical Society and Dakota County Historical Society. After 3 months of emailing and phone calls to Sam and Suzzy, I thought I saw a link to NHS and NAG but a recent search finds that the links are not there.

    Now, I realize they are linking to city departments, task forces and commissions, that is great, but there is no link to the Chamber/CVB, NHS, NAG, CAC and other community assets that should be linked on a community newspaper.

    Am I not looking in the right spot for these links or should I still be upset.

    1. Hayes, the newspaper’s community links section is confusing and broken. They have the listing of links inside a Thursday, March 19, 2009 1:28 pm story.

      (More proof that their software has the ability to make contextual links.)

      But on the lower right section of the home page, they rotate a display of the community links subsections.

      So if you refresh the home page, you might see the listing of sports links. If you refresh the page again, you might see the City of Northfield department links.

      When the "City Links" subsection displays on their home page, the NAG and NHS are listed at the bottom (here’s a screenshot):

      NNews-sshot-211pm

      But those links to NAG and NHS don’t appear on the community links story/page.

      So I don’t think they’re trying to be mean to you. 😉 But it’s broken and they should fix it.

  3. I was very glad to see this post up so quickly considering we just discussed all of this last night. Seeing, now, the bigger issue of independent journalists not being recognized is exactly a disservice. Journalism is about informing people and serving as a medium between one party and another (ex: authorities and citizens, informed and uninformed, etc.). If you have left out the people who are speaking the loudest, not only for themselves, but for others in the town, the media is then not only ignoring much of the community but also failing to reach their overall mission.

    Their reasoning for not linking is to keep viewers on their sites. One: why would you support a media only concerned with their own thoughts and pageviews? Two: I have learned that a site will do much better if they link to others. They will be more respected among both readers and fellow journalists.

    Griff, you’re recent post about Pressville and then this one following has got me doing some research. I find that every blogger, even the most amateur, needs to read a little about the ethics of the blogosphere.

    Found:
    http://quezi.com/3488
    http://www.rebeccablood.net/handbook/excerpts/weblog_ethics.html

  4. Christopher, thanks for that comment, those two links on linking ethics, and especially for your insightful question yesterday that whacked me upside the head and got me to write the blog post that I should have written last summer.

    1. No problem. Your original story and this following one have opened my eyes a bit. The work I do outside of Pressville, as well as for Pressville of course, will be impacted by what you have said.

  5. I must be as dumb as a box of rocks. I don’t see it Rob.

    I think they are doing the reader a disservice by not providing a link. they are aware of the information, but choosing not to provide it, and in the case of Pressville it is relevant.

  6. Yep, they’re rotating between the two linked images, one for photo reprints, the other for Pressville. Note that the Pressville image links to

    http://northfieldnews.com/mod/adman/adclk.php?ad_id=404&sk=

    before it redirects to http://pressville.org.

    So they are using their advertising software to make the clickable link, which indicates that their link policy is “only advertisers get clickable links.”

    Pressville is being treated as an advertiser, albeit a freebie.

    Here are the screenshots:

    nnews-sshot-photo-reprints nnews-sshot-pressville

  7. On Saturday I sent an email to the Northfield News, thanking them for the wonderful article they wrote about our Journey in Journalism class at Carleton, and for posting two Pressville story pickups as well.

    We really appreciate the strong relationship we have formed with the Northfield News, and the support they are giving us.

    Jaci Smith and Suzy Rook spoke to many students in our class recently about a special project, giving us lots of journalistic advice and encouragement.

    When the Northfield News runs Pressville stories it also tells us, in my view, that we’re on the right track in delivering solid journalistic value to the Northfield community.

    At the same time, I agree with Griff, Chris, and others who urge the Northfield News to link very richly to local Northfield blogs and journalism sites — including sites that sometimes are competitive with the Northfield News.

    If our class is fortunate enough to keep getting our stories picked up by the Northfield News, we hope the editors will consider putting clickable links to Pressville in each one of those stories.

    The reason I feel comfortable asking for that is that I believe not only will Pressville get more traffic as a result of such a policy but so, I believe, will the Northfield News.

    It seems counter-intuitive, for sure. But the evidence is well-established now that such links — even to web sites that are competitors — actually endear readers to web sites that consistently offer such links.

    The value of lots of rich, smart linking is such that it drives traffic back to your web site. Links send readers away in the short term but attracts them back in the long term. Great links strengthen bonds of loyalty to those sites that provide them. In business lingo, great linking builds great online brands.

    Look at Google, the most successful company on the Web. How did they do it? By providing smart links and lots of them. Any journalism web site can harness that power too.

    And they are doing it. One of the hottest online journalism startups is Publish2, which offers plug-in modules to journalism web sites like those at The New York Times, The Washington Post, the PBS Newshour, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    Last May, Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President for Search Products and User Experience gave testimony at a Senate hearing on “The Future of Journalism.”

    In her presentation, Mayer described how the “atomic unit of consumption” in news has now shifted from the full newspaper to the individual article, in the same way that in the music industry, individual songs have replaced albums as the basic unit of consumption.

    On those article pages that are journalism’s new basic unit of consumption, original reporting plus great links is emerging as the magic formula for success.

    There’s little doubt anymore that in the search for a new business model to save journalism, “original reporting plus great links and lots of them” will be at the center of that model.

  8. Madison Wisc. media have taken the community spirit of linking to one another to the next level with their collaborative journalism project called All Together Now.

    All Together Now is a collaborative journalism endeavor by news media in Madison, Wisconsin, to produce print, broadcast and online reports on a common theme.

    Following an initial meeting in early April 2009, media members picked health care access as the inaugural topic. More than two-dozen Madison area outlets agreed to cover obstacles to access encountered by people here, and to explore the underlying issues and opportunities for improvement.The project aims to call attention to prior reporting as well as topics undertaken specifically for this project.

    They launched their first collaboration last week, reported on here: Madison media launch All Together Now with a collaborative reporting project on health care.

    This is similar to the Community Issue Forums we did at Northfield.org in the late 90s:

    NCO/Northfield.org teamed up with the Northfield News, KYMN Radio, the City of Northfield, the League of Women Voters Northfield, NTV, and other local organizations to host these time-limited events. This was an effective way for citizens to become more informed about an issue through simultaneous channels: the Internet, newspaper, radio, TV, and F2F (face-to-face).

    We (LG) met with Sam Gett and Jaci Smith at the Northfield News over a year ago and proposed doing this again. They declined.

  9. CLARIFICATION: The News didn’t actually reject our request to collaborate, if by “decline” one means “actively refuse.”

    (Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘decline’ includes #5 : to withhold consent.)

    They just never responded to our F2F and email follow-up request.

     Here’s Tracy’s follow-up email:

    Thanks for meeting with us today. I hope you agree that it was a good and constructive meeting. Here’s my recap.

    We’re all agreed that Locally Grown linking to the Northfield News stories/articles/online content is just fine and is, in fact, beneficial – providing that we continue to keep our excerpts down to a few sentences so as not to discourage people from reading the whole story in context on the Northfield News website.

    The Northfield News will, from time to time, print excerpts of the posts and/or discussion on Locally Grown in the print edition of the News. LoGro will provide contact information to the News if the News would like permission to quote a particular comment/commentor from our blog.

    We will include Jaci’s blog’s RSS feed in our sidebar aggregation on Locally Grown. We will not be including Sam’s blog at this time because it does not fit our criteria of blogs which are primarily issues-related.

    The News website and Jaci’s blog will link to relevant Locally Grown posts or discussions where applicable.

    In our meeting, Griff and I also proposed a couple of ideas for discussion:

    1) Collaboration between the News, LoGro, KYMN, LWV et al on the time-limited issues forum idea whereby all entities contribute content and cross-promote each other’s venue. You can view a list of some of our past topics at https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/about/issue-forums/

    2) Possibly synergy in working with the Representative Journalism project journalist whose investigative pieces will be posted on Locally Grown, but possibly also in print by the Northfield News. There may be other ways the News and LoGro can work together with/for the RepJ project.

    So, Griff, Ross, Sam, Jaci – please let me know if I misunderstood anything or left out something vital; Sam and Jaci, please let us know what you decide regarding the two discussion items.

    I followed up on my action item with this email a couple days later:

    Jaci, I’ve added your blog’s RSS feed to our right sidebar aggregator with our group of other civic-issue bloggers:

    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/

    I’ve also added you by name to the Media section at the bottom of our blogosphere page:

    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/blogosphere/


    On the plus side, the newspaper had some kind of collaboration with the Northfield League of Women Voters during last fall’s election (anyone know what it entailed?); they now have some kind of collaboration going with KYMN Radio, as I hear Suzi Rook on the radio on Friday afternoons and see KYMN ads in the paper; and Jaci Smith did attend a one-hour RepJ/community meeting in January with Bonnie Obremski, Len Witt, and some LG regulars at the Bittersweet.

    However, the newspaper has never printed “excerpts of the posts and/or discussion on Locally Grown in the print edition of the News” nor have they ever linked “to relevant Locally Grown posts or discussions where applicable.”

  10. Here’s a truly troublesome side-effect of the Northfield News’ refusal to link. The Northfield Hospital announced today: Hospital limits visitors due to H1N1.

    The Northfield News republished the content of the Hospital’s press release to make it look like its their news article: Hospital limits visitors due to H1N1. (They added 1 word: “new” in front of the word “policy” in the second sentence; and they removed the words “In addition,” from the start of the third sentence.) There’s no link, of course. And notice that no reporter has his or her name attached.

    I think it’s unconscionable that the newspaper doesn’t let people know about the Northfield Hospital’s H1N1 page during this time of a health crisis and provide them with a clickable link to it.

  11. Griff: I don’t understand why you think the newspaper owes the public any duty. Whether it’s their site or your site, the site owner gets to make the decisions.

    The newspaper is not a public resource. They can do as they wish, can’t they?

  12. David:

    You are technically correct. The News can do whatever they want. However, they are providing a public service by putting a newspaper out there for everyone to read. The whole issue of linking will allow people to get a better understanding of the story they are reading if they can link back to the original source. Also, it is not up to current web standards if they do not link to other sites. I can understand why they would want people to stay at their site, but to me it is not that big of a deal. I link to other sites on our website.

  13. David, I agree, they’re not a public resource and can do as they wish.  But newspapers, especially monopoly community newspapers like the Northfield News, have long cast themselves in the role of helping to fulfill a public mission, too, not just a corporation out to make a buck. 

    Maybe the connection between democracy and newspapers got started with Thomas Jefferson: “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”

    I don’t know if the Northfield News or its parents, Mainstream Publications, LLC & Huckle Publishing, Inc,. have a mission statement that guides them.

    But many newspapers do. For example, see this from the News-Register Publishing Co. “a closely held corporation owned by members of the Bladine Family of McMinnville, OR.” See especially the 3rd paragraph about the importance of connectivity:

    Excerpts from the News-Register’s Mission Statement:

    “As we discover, report and comment on local people and activities, we maintain a diversity of connection points to the community. We produce a scrapbook of shared experiences, values and norms; we highlight the strengths, assets and resources that exist – or are needed – for local people to built a stronger community; we provide recognition for those efforts.

    “In these ways, our content fosters loyalty to the community. Loyalty to community is an important characteristic of our readership base. Surveys show that more News-Register readers feel positive toward their community and their city/school governments, by a 2-to-1 margin over non-readers. Our newspaper plays an important role in those beliefs.”

    “Our content should provide readers with positive connections to their families, friends and neighbors; to their clubs and organizations; to their environment and their government. That connectivity is essential to the strength of our community, and we are the principal provider of information that helps build community.”

    “We retain trust and credibility in the community by fulfilling our “watchdog” role. We value our reputation of publishing the news without fear or favor.”

    “We provide the public with an outlet for community opinions. We “prime the pump” for such opinions through our newspaper editorials and columns, and we are a caretaker of the opinions that are published.”

  14. Guys: I don’t know much about the business model for newspapers. But, I would think that their lifeblood is advertisers. If the online version is better, easier, and faster than the paper version, then guys like you won’t buy the paper, circulation goes down, ad prices go down, and paper goes out of business.

    Then you won’t have online or in print versions.

  15. If the newspaper is only about advertising … well, then that’s what The Shopper is for, isn’t it.
    Newspapers have played an incredibly important role in our society, and the fact that their role is now lessened by online news does not … or should not … mean they lose all their journalistic principles.

    I like the last two paragraphs of the McMinnville OR paper that are quoted above: retaining the trust and their credibility in the community by fulfilling their watchdog role, and engaging in the role of an opinion giver as well as being a caretaker of opinions.

    Those are good principles for a small town newspaper to aspire to; a changing news world doesn’t mean the local news , in whatever form, has to give up sound journalism principles.

    The owner of a paper DOES get to make the decisions, and that’s what some of us complain about … the quality of the decisions being made.

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