A journalist at the New York Times told me yesterday that as opposed to top blogs, the New York Times does not normally link to sources of their stories in their internet edition. Today Tim O’Reilly points this out in referring to a New York Times story that cites me but does not link to my blog. In this case the source of the story is my story on Anne Wojcicki and 23andme.

This is what the New York Times wrote. Their article is inspired in the original post where I blogged about the company in January and the recent post in which I praise Anne for getting her company funded. But when you read the New York Times article it really sounds like they interviewed…my blog. Is asking the New York Times to link to blogs when they quote from them asking the most important newspaper in the world to adapt to new rules that are not part of their culture?

The New York Times is not alone in this. A similar problem arises with The Economist, arguably the best magazine in the world. Recently I was interviewed by The Economist. When the story came out, not only did they not link to my company, FON, but I saw that The Economist journalists do not sign their own articles. At least in the case of the New York Times, I was able to send an email to Katie Hafner who wrote the article, asking her to link to the source. But in the case of The Economist you are being covered anonymously, something that in the world of blogs is generally reserved to commentators, not authors. So, for example, if The Economist writes what in this case was a well written, balanced story on the state of affairs in Spain, you have nobody to thank. The opposite could also be true. Personally I think that journalists worldwide learn as much from feedback as bloggers do from commentators. Recently I had a chance to meet John Micklethwait, The Economist’s Editor in Chief, and question the policy of anonymity. His reply was that The Economist does not plan to change it, that it has served the magazine well over the years. I guess John has a point. A magazine that has been in continous publication since 1843 and a newspaper that has been in continous print since 1857 probably have earned the right to live by their own rules. Still as these publications migrate from print to the internet, I wish they followed the transparency rules that all of us in the internet are used to and expected to uphold.

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Antoin O Lachtnain on May 31, 2007  · 

I think if this is just a web edition of the print version, what the NYT did is probably ok. After all, it’s not web journalism, it’s print journalism, shoehorned for the web. If it’s journalism for the web, then I think it’s a bit sharp.

The reason it is ok in print is becasue the requirement for brevity makes it difficult to cite links. That’s not the case for the web where you can hyperlink, obviously.

At the end of the day, though, the NYT can do it whatever way it damned well likes. People still want to be in it.

To be fair, not ‘all of us’ on the Internet feel they are expected to uphold these rules. You and I, for sure, but there is loads of crappy writing on the web with no links or citations and a hazy relationship with the truth. At least if you read something as a fact in the NYT or the Economist, you can be reasonably sure that it is true (or at least somewhat true). They have some sort of standard, lots of people don’t have any.

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Stefanos on May 31, 2007  · 

When quoting other peoples’ work, the general rule is that the more hard-to-find the quote is, the more the author that uses that quote in his/her own article has something to hide. This applies to the print media as well, even more so I would argue. People can nowadays easily find your story by googling your name, so that isn’t the biggest concern I have, although you are completely right.
I think in this particular case, the author has to hide the fact that she never contacted you to comment, although she mentions trying to contact other sources. Given that you are easily available, what was the point? Apart from adding a link to your blog, the most important point of this story for me is that good journalism requires checking your sources. Your blog might have been outdated, or not even written by the real Martin Varsavsky This is just one example http://fakesteve.blogspot.com/.
Regarding the Economist, I also agree that it is the best newspaper/newsmagazine in the world, and I believe that not writing the names of the authors of each article adds to its credibility. There is no disclaimer here: “The views of the authors may not reflect the opinion of the magazine”, as other publications use. They take full responsibility and that counts for something at a publication with such a history. They are also willing to acknowledge their mistakes, something most publications, and individuals, try to avoid.

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Francesco on May 31, 2007  · 

Which are advantages and disadvantages for a well established publication like NYT and The Economist in mentioning online sources?

I see the following advantages:

a) Provide transparency to the readers;
b) Provide additional related sources on the subject to the readers;
c) Open a two-way channel with very valuable sources of information and insights (like you and your blog, Martin);
d) Make the publication web-sites more interesting and more “symbiotic” with the Internet;

Honestly, I don’t see any disadvantage, if not a little more workload driven by additional interactivity with the readers (that’s in itself is something a publication should pursue whatsoever).

Am I missing something?

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andres werner on May 31, 2007  · 

I have been reading the Economist for years (my father was a suscriber when I was in my teens) and am a big fan. I currently only enjoy the online edition, and do so greatly. Their editorial policy is inmaculate and more than respectable, I believe them to not be only the most interesting single source out their but also the most balanced.

I was quite surprised when I realized the entire publication was anonymous but with time came to realize it made much sense. It’s hard to believe that the people at other top news outlets are less competent or intelligent in their analysis: perhaps the Economist’s way of doing things is what sets it apart.

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A. on May 31, 2007  · 

Not being able to “thank” for a well-written article makes it sound as if you´d like to send some free foneras – for an even “better” article next time (just being cynical). Just send a letter to the editor. It might even get published and everybody will get a chance to know what you thought of the article, not just the journalist.

However I do agree about linking and sources, saves you a lot of time if you are interested in the particular study, blog, or whatever it is that is being mentioned. Hopefully it will come with time.

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Martin Varsavsky on June 1, 2007  · 


Believe it or not, thanking is also part of the dialogue between a writer and his/her readers. If not, look at some of the comment in this blog. But I agree it´s not the best example

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Thomas Crampton on June 1, 2007  · 

I just wrote a posting about this on the New Media blog of the International Herald Tribune.

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Mr. Gunn on August 22, 2007  · 


It is, in fact, arrogance in the extreme for traditional print articles to not link to the site from which they most likely cribbed 90% of their article. Yes, it’s embarrassing for a reporter for such an august publication to admit that Joe Blog beat them to a story, but it happens all too frequently.

Give credit where credit’s due, even if that means linking to a blog. I can’t believe that a company that wants a fee for online access can’t see the obvious value-add that links provide over print, anyways.

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