There have been hints for awhile now that the New York Times was going to start adding links to third-party content on its front page, and now it appears to have finally happened, with the launch of something called Times Extra. The paper has been doing this for some time now on its technology front page, using links aggregated by BlogRunner — the meme-tracker the company acquired a couple of years ago — as well as through content-syndication agreements with blog networks like GigaOm (which I write for), as well as VentureBeat and Read/Write Web.
As Rick Turoczy at Read/Write Web notes in his post, this may not seem like a huge deal to many people. After all, links to external sources are the life-blood of the Web, right? They are like currency now — with Google as the central banker. But for traditional news media, linking out to someone else is a big step. Not only are you sending people away from your site (an argument I used to hear all the time, mostly from the ad department, but less so now) but you are effectively admitting that you don’t know everything. I recall several discussions with senior editors after the BBC decided to start adding external links to its news stories, and there was a lot of concern about whether this was a good thing or not.
As my friend Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has pointed out time and time again, linking is a good thing — a very good thing. After all, one of the most highly-trafficked websites in the world, a little page known as the Drudge Report, consists of nothing but links to other sources. My argument continues to be that if you become a trusted source of valuable content — both your own news stories and links to high-quality content elsewhere — then your readership will increase. I assume the New York Times has come to the same conclusion (Erick Schonfeld doesn’t like the fact that the links clutter up the front page, which I think is a fair point; it might be better to have them on the individual article pages).
On a related note, I hope to be able to announce some similar steps at the Globe and Mail in the not-too-distant future. Also worth reading is a recent post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog, in which Frank Rich of the New York Times talks about why he includes links in his columns (thanks to Darren Barefoot for reminding me about that piece).