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.