Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blogger ticks off The Walrus for not linking to the source of his quote

There's an interesting and, I must say, civilized conversation going on between a blogger David Eaves and The Walrus magazine, represented by managing senior editor Jeremy Keehn; the focus of which is full attribution for a quote from Eaves that appeared in the terrific article The Dark Country in the November/December issue of The Walrus

Eaves, who runs a site called Eaves.ca, says that the quote was taken, correctly, from a long posting that he made a few months back. He says he is "thrilled" to see it as part of the article, but less thrilled that while he was quoted by name, the original source (his website) was not mentioned and no link was provided in the published article or, later, in the web version of it. He contends that The Walrus doesn't link to others as a matter of policy, a policy he disagrees with. 

They believe in the myth that they need to keep people on their website - which means they also believe in keeping their readers away from the very material that makes their stories interesting. This makes their website less interesting (and is why I don't visit it - I visit websites with external links, 'cause I like to explore ideas -- in both the literal and internet surfing sense).
Keehn responded on The Walrus blog. Perhaps surprisingly he argues that to link to the blog where the quote came from would somehow "affect the flow of narrative". He says it was a conscious decision:
Ultimately, I concluded that David’s credentials were all readers needed to know. In hindsight, I might have chosen otherwise, in part because the quotation wasn’t a spoken one, and in part because this is a rare instance where the source actually ended up caring.
But Keehn goes further, denying there is a policy against linking, but then blaming lack of money for not putting links in the online versions of its published stories. 
Note that expert commentary of the kind David’s quotation was providing often appears without much context, partly because many stories would otherwise get bogged down in dreary repetitions of “reached by phone in her office, Professor X said…”....
We don’t go in and insert links into our magazine pieces because we don’t have the resources, and because the decisions about what and where to link would be difficult and time-consuming to navigate, especially given that we rely on freelance writers, who might have opinions about what should be linked to or not.
I am expressing some surprise since The Walrus employs several interns, whose job is to fact-check and do such necessary editorial work as injecting links.  And it is simply precious to claim that article flow would have been interrupted by a referral link to the original post. If you're going to play in the online leagues, you should probably play by the online rules -- one of which is to provide clear and comprehensive links to the sites that are your sources. For The Walrus, of all magazines, to plead poverty for not following those generally agreed rules just seems lame. 
It might have simply been better for Keehn to say they were sorry and would try harder.


Blogger Kat Tancock said...

I agree, linking is good online journalism, for a multitude of reasons. It does take more time than not linking, to be sure, but my suggestion to The Walrus - since they put all of their stories online - would be for the handling editor to make note of what should be linked and make the information accessible to whoever puts the story online.

4:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see both sides of the issue. I agree that it disrupts the flow, which is why I rarely click on links in the middle of an article (although I *might* go back to the link later). Still, it's pretty much the nature of online publications, so a link should be provided.

I'd be more inclined to click on links if they opened in a separate window. I could then bookmark that page and revisit it later. Not enough sites do that, though.

4:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would the print version of linking be footnotes, because we don't see a lot of those in print mags anymore? If The Walrus's readership is clamoring for links, then of course they should review their policy of not linking. Otherwise, like footnotes it seems like an individual editorial decision, not an industry one.

Also, Jeremy Keehn, "Managing Editor"? Thought the ME was Jared Bland.

5:35 pm  
Blogger Kat Tancock said...

Anon 1, try holding down command (on a Mac) or whatever the Windows equivalent is when you click on a link - it will open in a new tab or window (whichever you have it set to in your prefs). I have mine set to open in a new tab in the background when I click that way so it doesn't disturb my reading but is there when I'm done.

8:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kat!

On a Mac,
Anon 1

11:46 pm  
Blogger Jeremy Keehn said...

Hi DB,

I think you might be conflating the two parts of my reply to David. What I meant in the first part was that, in the context of the article **as it ran in the magazine** (which is all the writer and I are thinking about), I might have concluded that it would disrupt the flow of the narrative to include, e.g., "In a post on eaves.ca..."

I believe I also mentioned that this wasn't an entirely conscious choice—more like one of a thousand such decisions that get made, most of them quite rapidly, when pulling together a long-form piece. I also said that in hindsight Gil and I might have done best to have included the information.

The part about linking is a separate question, which I'm not directly involved with. I can say, though, that our editorial interns are plenty busy, and though we do temporarily have one web intern helping out our web editor, maintaining and improving the current site is labour-intensive enough for two. Transforming long-form print pieces into web-friendly reads is clearly a good idea, but for the moment, there are only so many resources we can dedicate to the task.

12:22 am  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

I think I know about the thousand small decisions an editor makes, not always the best in hindsight. I might have somehow conflated discrete parts of your answer. But after re-reading your response,I don't think so. Eaves's criticism was about inadequate credit in the article published in the magazine a shortcoming that was continued when links weren't included in the online version.

You say you are not directly involved in online decisions; yet felt confident enough to argue the case.

1:10 am  
Anonymous nick said...

Yeah, I wish the Walrus linked a little more. That said, what's with the weirdly selective quoting? This post seem to misrepresent Keehn's note in pretty obvious ways.

1:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact that the Walrus dumps all – and I mean all – of its content on its web site illustrates pretty clearly that the magazine has very little (or no) online vision or strategy. It's still a bunch of poor, tweedy print guys – the editor is literally from another era – dabbling with that internet thing.

11:32 am  
Anonymous David Eaves said...

Hi D.B. Scott - think it is great that you picked this up and hope that others in the magazine industry in Canada give this issue some serious thought. You are dead right about how, if people want to play in the online space, they'd better understand the rules of the game. Sadly, I'm just not sure most magazine people care about the online space, and a few see it as a necessary evil...

As an aside, your headline does reveal the interesting challenge of being online. Previously, this would simply have been an letter to the editor that probably would not have been published. My goal was not to tick of the Walrus (and I'm not sure that I did - at least not Jeremy) but to engage the magazine about how it works online. Today, media readers are more empowered and they are going to say, publicly, when they think something isn't working. We'd all better get more comfortable with it.

In that vein, my reading of your post - and specifically my reaction to being quoted in the walrus (e.g. "thrilled") made it look like I was feigning happiness... actually I was really excited - something I went out of my way to say in the post (and again here). It's a great piece and I'm glad they included me.

1:13 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

I think the post should be taken on its face, that you were "thrilled" to be included in the story. And, while I know you weren't criticizing Jeremy, the tone of your item falls well within the parameters of a "ticking off". Would you have been more comfortable with "Blogger criticizes Walrus policy on linking"? If so, it would misrepresent the fact that The Walrus has such a policy, which Jeremy denies. Anyway, the exchange was the thing, and a worthwhile one.

3:15 pm  

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