Always Link to the Source

The author deserves it.

The other day, I read an excellent post by journalist Dan Tynan titled “My Job and welcome to it.” If you are a journalist, blogger, or other type of writer — or have dreams of becoming any of these things — I highly recommend that you read this. It might open up your eyes about how a professional writer works and how the decline in print journalism is affecting them. Many thanks to @estherschindler on Twitter for including this link among the dozens she tweets each day.

In it, he laments about the way his work is echoed on the Web:

And, of course, the blogosphere may pick it up. Kind-hearted conscientious bloggers will write a one paragraph summary and link to the story, citing the source where they found it (though not necessarily the original source). Some will add their own commentary or expertise, though this is pretty rare. Others will lift the story wholesale, but retain my byline and some notion of where they originally found the story. And some evil bloggers will lift the content and claim it as their own, the bastards.

From all of this I get exactly bupkis. Oh, there’s added exposure I suppose. I do always put a link to my own blog (Tynan on Tech) in the bio, and sometimes I see a small traffic spike. But really, the benefit to me personally is next to nil.

I added the emphasis in the first paragraph. It’s the point of this post: that too many bloggers and online content creators are linking back to their sources — but not necessarily the original source.

I see this on Twitter all the time. The Huffington Post, which apparently regurgitates top news and opinion items with a blurb and a quote — sometimes quite lengthy, going beyond what’s considered “fair use” — is frequently linked to from Twitter, Digg, and other sites. The only organization that benefits from this is the one that echoes the content — in this case, The Huffington Post — not the author of the original work or the organization that paid for the work to be written. The result of this is a potential loss of credit and advertising revenue for the true source. People read the meat of the content on the aggregating site, and don’t bother to dig deeper at the source. This not only contributes to the problems we’re having in the world of journalism, but it feeds the “think for me” attitude of so many people who are trying to consume the information that’s out there. After all, why should I read an entire article and form my own opinion when an organization like The Huffington Post can deliver the highlights and opinion for me?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing The Huffington Post. It does serve a purpose. What I am criticizing, however, is the inability of people to recognize the source of someone’s hard work and to share a link to that source rather than to the regurgitated version on another site.

Oddly enough, another link shared on Twitter soon after the link referenced (and properly linked to) above rammed this point home — at least in my mind. It was a link to an article by Mack Collier titled “Five reasons you have a crappy blog.” I read the article, which I found interesting, and was surprised to find a statement buried at the bottom of it that said:

Mack Collier blogs at The Viral Garden. His original post ran here.

I clicked the link on the word “here” and wound up at Mack’s blog, where the exact same post appeared, but with the title “Five reasons why your company blog sucks.” (I guess the word “sucks” was too outrageous for the other site.)

This worried me. Had the other site, the one my Twitter friend linked to, stolen the content from Mack? I went so far as to fire off an e-mail message to him, apologizing for my snoopiness and asking whether he’d given the other site permission. He wrote back promptly, assuring me that he had.


Content theft is a major concern of all writers and bloggers. I’ve seen other sites steal content from newspapers and other bloggers and I’m always aware of when it may be happening again.

My point is this: if you’re going to share a link to content with someone, share a link to the original source. (Yes, “original source” is redundant, but I think redundancy is required here.) The same article — or a good portion of its content — might appear multiple times on the Web. The original author deserves to have his work written where it appeared first. This helps him gauge the popularity of a post or topic. It helps concentrate all comments related to the post in one place. If he’s been paid by the source site to write the content, it helps earn him points with the publisher that’ll get him more work in the future or increase his level of compensation. It could also help with advertising revenues if you click an ad on the site.

And you can bet that when I tweeted the link, I used Mack’s site as the source.

5 thoughts on “Always Link to the Source

  1. Your posts are really relevant to me ! Its teaching me alot as I am trying to start a blog now myself! Please do continue posting!

  2. Thanks for the link and Tweet, Maria ;) The debate over blog content being stolen/republished on other sites is one that bloggers are always concerned about, and with good reason.

    From my experience, the legitimate sites will ask before they run your content. The ones that are run by spammers that want to steal your content to try to monetize it are the ones that get everyone upset.

    To me, I don’t waste too much time getting upset about the spammers, simply because I know that simply stealing blog posts and slapping them up on your new blog isn’t going to generate traffic, no matter whose name is attached. The spammers aren’t going to do the legwork to get a readership up, because since they ARE spammers, they are into cutting corners.

    I don’t get too upset about the pennies that they might get from stealing my content. But that’s just me, I know many people want to fight this tooth and nail, and I can completely understand why they would.

    mack collier´s last blog post: The Viral Garden’s Top 25 Marketing & Social Media Blogs – Week 141

    • Mack: I probably get a lot more upset than I should. I feel very protective of my work and it irks me to no end that some people simply steal it for the purpose of driving traffic to their site, getting Google juice, and earning a few pennies on AdSense ads.

      I used to provide content for a site that distributed it to other sites with my permission and links — much as you did for the article I mentioned. What I found, however, is since there was no fee for the content, it was being used on sites that had nothing to do with the content. Again, to build Google Juice, etc. When the domain names started showing up with XXX in them, I put my foot down and pulled all my content from the distributor. I won’t make that mistake again.

      Anyway, I think you are looking at it the right way. I just wish more people would recognize YOUR blog as the source rather than the legitimate site it was echoed on. It think that’s the right way to do it.

  3. This is an issue I am very famliar with and very frustrated with. Most of the time, I link to the “original source” (I’ll include your admitted redundancy because you are right) but when I do the “3 Count” column every day I run into this over and over again, sometimes the “original source” isn’t where the news is at.

    Sometimes, for example, organization X will release a study. The study by itself doesn’t mean much but when you put it in conjunction with another study and/or a news even, it becomes meaningful. A good site can combine these things with a token amount of original reporting and create news out of nothing.

    I know this isn’t exactly what you’re talking about, in this scenario, the new site added their own reporting and research into the mix, but it still nags me not to link to the original source.

    After all, it took FAR more time to compile the report than to do the analysis and make it newsworthy. It’s always a conundrum. i try to link to both when I can, but when I have something like the show notes, where I can only have one link per story, my back is against the wall.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

    Jonathan Bailey´s last blog post: Amazon’s Kindle Lets Anyone Sell Your Content

    • Jonathan: You’re actually bringing up a very good point. Sometimes, there are multiple “original sources.” Site A has the data but may not have done any kind of meaningful analysis. Site B links to and maybe even quotes the data and adds analysis. I think you should link to the source that has the information you’re trying to share. For example, if it’s the analysis that you want others to read and benefit from, you should definitely link to that. But on a blog post, it’s easy enough to link to both. It’s elsewhere — for example, on Twitter — that it’s difficult to link to both.

      Occasionally, I’ll write posts in my blog that draw quotes from several sources that have somehow “clicked” in my mind. My post might offer my take on the situation given those sources. Or I might read a blog post that sets me off on a tangent that has very little to do with that original post. (I think this particular post qualifies.) Still, I’ll link to it. But what do the folks who read my post link to? It all depends on what they’re trying to share: the original information or my take on it.

      That’s one of the great things about REAL blogging — not the endless, repetition of a few key facts from one hot story. A real blogger will take what he’s reading elsewhere online and present it with thoughtful commentary to make something else, something that stands on its own and is worth reading.

      While I think sites like the Huffington Post TRY to do this, I think they fall far short of the mark, failing to provide a meaningful service to their readers.

What do you think?