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BBC News linking policy (3)

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:36 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010

Links to external sites are an important part of the BBC News website and I have blogged previously about how and why we are aiming to develop what we do in this area - here and here.

One theme that came up was what we should do about linking to sites which require subscription. There were mixed views; on balance, you seemed to be in favour of us providing the most relevant links, wherever they are, with some saying they'd like us also to flag links which require subscription if you follow them.

That is broadly the direction we are going in. As the Times moves into online subscription and others consider the options - see, for example, this piece about the New York Times - there is likely to be a changing landscape with some sites and stories behind paywalls, some not, and some which are in between - a certain number of visits or part of an article free, all depending on the user's individual circumstances.

Screenshot of NewstrackerOur approach will continue to be to take editorial justification as our guiding principle - the relevance of the link in relation to the story we are reporting and its usefulness to you in that context. Beyond that, we will, where practical, aim to tell you if the link is going to a subscription site. Our automated Newstracker module, for example, should be able to do this and already signals when registration is required.

For in-line links in blog posts and news stories, it may be impractical to do this for reasons of space, layout or time. Whatever we do, though, we will look for the best and most useful links for you, while following our approach to external links - which you can find at the bottom of every page.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.


  • Comment number 1.

    First off, thanks for the update Steve, it's much appreciated. Now to the "But", and in my opinion it might well be a big but (especially from rival media outlets), if the "newstracker" screen shot is to be believed you plan to/are highlighting sites that might be behind a 'pay-wall', could this not actually be giving such sites far more weight than they should have, surely the simple asterisk is all that is needed along with the footnote explanation, if highlighting is required then perhaps it should appear as a mouse-over gesture?

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Any word on giving proper references to academic journals when reporting research?

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good to see the BBC's thoughts here. As an online editor I agree that you have to link to the most relevant source however, if the same information is available on a free to access site would the BBC's policy be to link to that in preference to a paid for site, on the basis that it would be more accessible?

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree that the illustrated highlighting for paywall links is too obtrusive. I've seen other sites which simply use their regular link highlighting along with a small padlock icon.

    Presumably any solution will be implemented in such a way that it plays nicely with screen-readers?

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    In an earlier comment I suggested that paywall links should be displayed using normal link highlighting plus a small padlock icon, but on reflection this was a mistake because it would suggest an ordinary Registration-Required link.

    How about using a coin going into a slot as an image that is just about shrinkable to an in-line link size, and whose meaning should be self-evident to most readers?

    Even better, the BBC could hold a competition for the best "paywall link" icon...

  • Comment number 9.

    #6. At 09:43am on 08 Jun 2010, Francis Norton wrote:

    "I agree that the illustrated highlighting for paywall links is too obtrusive."

    Actually, looking at the image again I think that Steve might have done the highlighting of the relevant text, without actually indicating so!...

    "I've seen other sites which simply use their regular link highlighting along with a small padlock icon."

    Indeed, perhaps the BBC should use a padlock icon for sites requiring registration and a £ sign (or $ for the international pages) for sites behind a paywall?

    "Presumably any solution will be implemented in such a way that it plays nicely with screen-readers?"

    Indeed and the use of an icon graphic would do that, the .jpg or .gif having an HTML "alt" textual alternative description that a screen-reader would pick up on and thus read out aloud.

  • Comment number 10.

    Moderators, too often comments stay in the "referred" state without being removed or reinstated. Since my comment has been referred for further consideration could you then consider it?

  • Comment number 11.

    As a blogger, I avoid linking to sites that have a paywall or require a user to register to read the content. There is normally a suitable alternative source but perhaps a real journalist would want to link to the original source?

    I do like the idea of the paywall link icon, I already use a "external" icon on some of my sites to represent exit links exiting but it's not a common practice. Perhaps an alternative would be for the browser to be identify and then exclude links those sites to which you have not paid.

  • Comment number 12.

    A good idea overall. I notice that the first link in the picture above is to the Guardian, who would have though it at the BBC?

    And could someone tell me why the BBC news site looks awful these last few days. The individual story pages are a mess (Firefox).

  • Comment number 13.

    I see nothing wrong in citing proper references supporting a theme,topic or argument.

  • Comment number 14.

    It doesn't matter if it is or isn't a subscription based site. The reader always has the choice not to subscribe, as long as the website is relevant I don't see the problem.

  • Comment number 15.

    I just read the story about a study showing a marked decline in worldwide snake populations. Being quite fond of serpents, I thought to follow up, but the links sidebar box took me to the front pages of the journal it was published in and the institution leading the study, NOT to the actual paper.

    The article does not reference the paper correctly either, so popping round to a library to make an interlibrary loans request is not easy, as they'd need me to be able to state author names, publication date, and the volume & page numbers of the journal.

    Remember what I said in earlier debates on this topic about correct citing, quoting and referencing?

  • Comment number 16.

    Re comments at #15: Very good points "Megan", no point offering a website URL without also offering either a direct URL or a proper academic style citation - after all the BBC journalist writing the piece must have accessed the actual article, and even if the 'junior-hack' is simply rewriting a press release there will surely be a proper citation contained within it also so why can't the BBC pass it on. It's bad enough that those who attempt to bash the BBC offer nothing more than "It is 'cos I say it is" as evidence to back up their assertions without the BBC doing much the same thing when backing up their own articles!

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't like wasting my time following links from a free to view site, to a pay site. I like the idea of flagging the subscription sites (how about a little pound sign logo next to the link!?)

  • Comment number 18.

    +1 on _Ewan_'s comment: When reporting on scientific stories, can you please, please include a citation, sufficient to identify the paper being reported on, and if possible a link?

  • Comment number 19.

    Steve, I think Boilerplated's idea (comment #1) is a good one. Using a title tag (displayed on a mouseover) to indicate which links are pay-for links is probably the easiest means to communicate to the reader without interrupting the flow of the article with notes about the link.

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    Thanks for your comments. The colour highlighting on the screengrab of the Newstracker is for the purposes of this illustration – it doesn’t actually look that way on the site, where it is a simple asterisk. Megan – I do remember what you said about references and I’ll look into the story you mention as an example and let you know what I find, which will also be of interest in relation to comment 16.

  • Comment number 22.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 23.

    Personally I'd favour a coin or a $/£ sign to indicate the site is behind a paywall. Isn't it good user interface standards to make things as descriptive as possible in the actual plain text? (ie. without mouseovers and such which may differ between browsers or even be disabled on some)

    An asterisk is hardly 'descriptive' and in any case signifies 'footnote' to me.

    Not that I plan on paying for news anyway!

  • Comment number 24.

    Could there please be a continual ongoing blog on how all political and ecoomic issues are covered by the BBC?

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    Just to follow up on Megan's point about the link going to the front page of the journal, not the paper - what happened was that when our journalist wrote the story the abstract wasn't linkable. It became so on Tuesday morning, by which time he was in Bonn covering the UN climate conference. That is not to say that we shouldn't be linking to source documents in principle - I think we should - but this was the practicality of the situation in this case.

  • Comment number 27.

    I will never pay for the news

  • Comment number 28.

    Most views pass off as news in cyberspace. Agree with Hyperstar. Won't pay for views either.

  • Comment number 29.

    Steve Herrmann,

    Please explain what has happened to my comment (number 2) of 7 June at this blog.

    I have already emailed the moderators and received no explanation. Whatever the reason for referral, it's poor performance to treat readers in this way.

    There's a basic issue of free speech here and the right to be informed about any curtailment of comments. Please provide the reason for removing mine, otherwise I will consider taking this matter to the BBC Trust.

    David Cromwell
    Media Lens

  • Comment number 30.

    Thank you, Steve, for chasing up about that link.

    Incidentally I went to a job interview for an e-learning advisor position yesterday, and mentioned this discussion in my presentation!

  • Comment number 31.

    Much as I disagreed with comment no. 2 by David Cromwell, I share his concerns about comments being "referred for further consideration" and then left in that state of limbo. I'm not sure why the moderators cannot either remove a "referred" comment (and explain the reasons for the removal) or else reinstate it. This has been going on for years on these BBC blogs and it is about time the issue was resolved.

  • Comment number 32.

    I read the BBC News report on the banning of the Israeli miltary plane flight over Turkish airspace and then followed your link to the Al Jazeera report.
    I was interested and surprised to find the Al Jazeera report more informative, fairer and more evenly balanced in its coverage than the BBC report which could not in any way be described as impartial.
    There is food for thought. What does the BBC say?

  • Comment number 33.

    Will we ever see David Cromwell's comment retrieved from the memory hole?

  • Comment number 34.

    The time now elapsed over the referral of David Cromwell's comment 2, above, and the failure to explain why it has been blocked, is truly disgraceful. The BBC seem to be treating contributors here with complete contempt. Is there anyone prepared to take responsibility?

    If and when such comments do get published, they should be accompanied by a statement from that 'higher' moderating party saying why the piece was held for further consideration.

    This system is a bit like arbitrary, time-unlimited detention and release without having to explain the charges.

    So much for the BBC's proclaimed ethos of public accountability.

    John Hilley

  • Comment number 35.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 36.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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