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Hyperlinking, Newspapers Disappoint Us, and the Oregon National Guard

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It won’t be the first time (nor the last) that I connect dots in a way that makes your eyes cross, but work with me here:

(First, here is some comic relief from Courtoons (thanks to Jim Calloway for the lead!).

Now, full speed ahead:

Once upon a time (pre-web days), one of my favorite ways to teach legal research, especially administrative and legislative research, was to hand out a copy of a newspaper article (on a current hot topic) where reporters would cite to a dozen or more government documents. I would then challenge my students to identify and locate each of the documents. This is harder than you think, but very effective and much more fun that the mind-numbing show and tell — “this is the CFR,” “this is the USC and this is the USCA,” approach.

Nowadays (the past 13+ years), however, we have had (ubiquitously – the technology is older than 13 years) something called hyperlinks, the power of which you would think newspapers would have grasped by now. But they haven’t!

I happily read newspapers in print (and expect no hypertext there), but when I read them online I expect value-added, in the form of hyperlinks to cited sources. A blog or other online publisher can do this, why can’t the newspapers? Some newspapers do this sporadically, but most of the time I’m gnashing my teeth and growling, “why can’t they link to that brief, that case, that document they just referred to in the article?”

As a blawger, I often refer to articles in newspapers that are worth a second look, but I usually have to add a lot of hyperlink value so the reader can, uh, read the case, the article, the brief, the document referred to. Hyperlinking is not rocket science (and one of the funniest interviews about rockets scientists is here, from This American Life). No, not all documents referred to in newspaper articles can be hyperlinked, but many, and maybe even most of them can.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Take this very interesting op ed piece: Dan Handelman’s In My Opinion article from the Monday, Feb. 2nd, print Oregonian (appearing online on Sunday):

“An unlawful deployment,” by Dan Handelman, guest opinion, Sunday February 01, 2009

I would use this article, in a heartbeat, for a legal research class. Not only is it a good read, but it cites to so many intriguing sources (for a law librarian-teacher, at least). Ten years ago, I would have photocopied the article, circled the 13+ documents referred to, and asked my students if they could identify and locate them.

Today, you would think (!), that while reading the document online one could hyperlink to at least some of these documents or at least the source of the documents or even just a definition of these documents (some are pretty obscure). In fact, the reporters are fact-checking anyway and probably have these hyperlinks at their fingertips so it’s not as if there is a lot of extra work.

The newspapers could also require that their guest’s opinion pieces include the hyperlinks in their submissions.

Taking Mr. Handelman’s article and including hyperlinks (and deleting all but the portions that should be linked) I get the following. Granted it’s a bit hyper-hyperlinked, but you get my point, I hope. And this is just the first couple of paragraphs.

And, think what a tool for education online newspapers could be if they did this!

Take a look at the actual article without hyperlinks – and here are the hyperlinks I’d add:

In a recent editorial, xxx Oregonian’s editorial board xxx a bill being introduced in the Oregon Legislature xxx (“Calling out the Guard, again,” Jan. 23). Xxx petition xxx a bill, xxx Rep. Kurt Schrader, xxx federal law. Xxx pursuant to a valid directive. Companion resolutions in the House and Senate xxx the current authorizations xxx.

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power xxx (Article 1, Section 8). The War Powers Act of 1973 limits the power ….”

I could go on …

“The force authorization for Iraq passed by Congress in 2002 [hyperlink] U.N. Security Council resolutions
[hyperlink] the 2001 authorization for the use of military force.
[hyperlink] Congress passed the Montgomery Amendment,
[hyperlink] The status of forces agreement
Even if the 2002 authorization [hyperlink]
[hyperlink]Similar measures are being introduced [hyperlink] … [
link to full text of article, san hyperlinks]”

Whew. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but worth it.

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One response to “Hyperlinking, Newspapers Disappoint Us, and the Oregon National Guard”

  1. There have been times when I would have liked to see the source of statistics for an article, but like you say, it’s a lot of work to add all those hyperlinks. Now if people were willing to pay for that kind of information, I am sure we could find someone who was willing to do the work.

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