Why Won't Journalists Link To Bills?

Part of being an infovegan (and having a healthy information diet) means seeing through cruft and staying low on the “food chain” of information consumption. When we talk about legislation, the furthest down we citizens usually get to see is in the document containing the individual piece of legislation. We call that a bill. Through the magic of hyperlinks and sites like Govtrack.us and OpenCongress.org, linking to particular bills is hassle free.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a tacit assumption amongst bloggers and journalists that what they have to say about the bill is far more important than you reading the legislation itself.

Same thing with the DISCLOSE Act. A simple Google search turns up a ton of results for the new campaign finance reform bill. Yet the commentators on this bill like the sponsors of the bill, the Sunlight Foundation, Hot Air, OpenSecrets.org, and the White House don’t link to the actual legislation. Of the first ten results as of writing only two do their readers the service of linking to the bills they’re discussing.Take a look at last month’s hubbub over angel investing in the financial reform bill. As of this writing, out of the ten results on the front page, only one links to the actual bill. The culprits are opinion writers high and low— from small blogs to the Wall Street Journal to the Huffington Post.

This situation makes things even more complicated with Google. Vanessa Fox pointed out on O’Reilly Radar that people don’t search for bill numbers which often get the citizen directly to the legislation. They search for meaningful names like “climate bill” because that’s how the news reports it. Thus Google results don’t end up with the content actual bill, they end up with those news reports. Searching for the climate bill on Google returns over 28 million results. The first link to the of the bill with that search that I can find is on page seven. That’s a lot of opinion and analysis to wade through to get to the results.

Journalists —especially bloggers who are native to this medium — should empower readers to make up their own minds. The typical blogger response is: “it’s just too hard. We have to produce so much content, you don’t understand.” I’m just not buying it. It doesn’t take any energy for a blogger to create a link, and a good blogger knows how to create a link. It takes little to no time to go to [Open Congress] and type in the name of the bill and get a nice, friendly link.

Expressing your point of view is powerful. But showing your readers how you got there is even more powerful. Journalists: help those of us on healthy information diets out. The infovegan in us all wants to not only understand your point of view but also get to the source. There’s never a reason to talk about a bill online without linking to it.

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