By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Linking and journalistic credibility

One of the great journalistic advances enabled by the Internet is that reporters can now link to the background information that underlies their work. All too often, though, news organizations don’t take advantage of it. They should, because it would enhance their credibility.

Case in point this morning is Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham’s call for an increased gasoline tax. (She’s right on the merits, by the way.) She bolsters her call, in part, with several statistical assertions, including this: “that whole ‘Taxachusetts’ thing is so 1978. Our state currently ranks 35th in the nation for taxes as a proportion of income.”

Columnists can’t attribute every fact, or their 600- to 700-word essays would double in size, and we’d all fall into a stupor from boredom. But they could link. There are no links in the online version of Abraham’s column, though.

The most widely circulated number I’ve seen is the Tax Foundation’s estimate that Massachusetts’ state and local tax burden as a percentage of personal income is 23rd. That’s the difference between Massachusetts being a low-tax state, as Abraham claims, or somewhere in the middle of the pack. And it’s something we’d all have to think about before pushing a gas-tax hike, or in deciding how large that hike should be.

Abraham, a former Boston Phoenix colleague of mine, is a fine reporter, and I know she could back up her assertion that Massachusetts is 35th, at least by someone’s measure. But the Internet enables all of us to show our work. The practice should be more routine than it is.

And kudos to Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby and the editorial-page crew. Jacoby’s column has been fully linked for quite some time. Whether you agree with him or not, linking makes him more a part of the online, multi-level conversation into which journalism is evolving.

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  1. mike_b1

    The problem with Abraham’s thesis is, as journalists are wont to do, it reduces everything to the lowest common denominator. In truth, all those pennies add up. What’s frustrating for anyone who flies is how we get nickel-and-dimed to death. The piling on of “penny taxes” is no different.

  2. Jack

    NYT columnist Frank Rich has been extensively linking his column for years. Although he writes an op-ed piece, it nonetheless enhances his credibility to see what he is basing his opinion on. There is a downside, however: It’s easy to chew up an hour on a Sunday morning following all the links in his essay!

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Jack: Yes. I should have mentioned Rich. The Sunday Times is one of my last print indulgences, so I usually read him on paper. But when I have seen the online version, I’ve been impressed with the amount of linking he does.Mike: That is some new picture!

  4. Michael Pahre

    Since there are a number of states without state income tax, the exact wording of the statement (23rd vs. 35th ranking) can be used to make a state appear to be a high-tax or low-tax state — depending on which argument would bolster your point. I’m curious to see how she responds to your inquiry, regardless of whether or not the Globe ever creates a hyperlink for it in the online version of the column.

  5. acf

    After Jacoby’s oversight, when he neglected to credit the source of a statement he used as his own, I would hope that his writings are well documented and credited, with links where needed.

  6. Ani

    Is this the reinvention of the footnote in electronic form?

  7. Dunwich

    Jeff’s recent Palin piece was brain-dead, linkage or not.

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