The Evolution of Linking in a Niche-Driven World

Disclaimer: per the November 1st in-class assignment, I wrote this post in 35 minutes.

In an earlier post, I referred to this morsel of advice from NYU Journalism professor and new media guru Jay Rosen on the topic of powerful blogging:

This method of niche domination isn’t only applicable in the blogosphere, either. Other online publications, particularly news outlets, are finding this advice more and more vital as they struggle to adapt to an online world that is increasingly saturated with coverage.

As BuzzMachine blogmaster Jeff Jarvis observed, “News is not one-size-fits-all.” He noted that the “architecture” of news is shifting dramatically, as major news organizations like the New York Times realize that trying to cover all stories in all niches means spreading resources thin for lackluster results.

The solution, as Jay Rosen explains in this video, is linking. He points out that as news organizations transitioned into the age of the Internet, they “set rules for themselves,” one of which was that sending people away from your site through links to other places was a BIG NO-NO. This, Rosen remarks, is explicitly “anti-web.” In fact, the ability to link to those who may be covering something more thoroughly, like an individual liveblogging an event or Perez Hilton covering the death of a celebrity, is at the heart of “connecting people to knowledge wherever it is.”

Ultimately, this technique proves surprisingly successful in bringing people back. Why? Because¬†consumers like consuming, but they also like honesty.¬†If you cover many stories, but don’t do it well, they’ll simply go somewhere else for their news. But if you cover stories and link to places that have the best possible information on each issue, readers will associate you with both thorough, accurate reporting, and the integrity it takes to provide it. As Jarvis concludes, “do what you do best… link to the rest.”

A fantastic example is this scene from Miracle on 34th Street, in which a holiday Santa directs Macy’s shoppers to another store in order to find the toy they seek. This was considered not only taboo, but virtual marketing suicide at the time. But rather than being bad for business, Macy’s gets calls and letters thanking them for helping them in their shopping endeavors. The store’s owner then decides to institute a new policy: “if we haven’t got what a customer wants, we’ll send him where he can get it.”

And that, as Rosen, Jarvis, and millions of others will attest, is the new mantra of new media.

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