Interested to see (via a Sunday morning tweet from Jay Rosen - thank god for the time difference, says an occasionally bored English insomniac) the new BBC guidelines on journalists linking to other sites. Key features are a reversal of the policy of linking to external sites' homepages, so deep (inline) links are now encouraged, a prioritisation of primary sources and analysis over news articles, and a general statement of policy that links are "essential to online journalism". And so they are.
Paul Bradshaw calls them "a good set of guidelines". Jay says it "put(s) the Beeb where good bloggers were in 2002", which is also, if scathing, pretty fair. For me, this tells us two things about the state of online journalism at the BBC. First, let's be clear, implementing this change will make the BBC's online journalism a whole lot better and the BBC news pages a more valuable part of the online news ecosystem. This is a good and important step and positive for readers and sources.
Second, this is mainly about search optimisation strategy. Just as a lot of newspapers (I'm looking especially at the Guardian here but everyone's at it) seem to be deprioritising external links in favour of linking to their own, highly search-optimised topic pages this will give the BBC a vital point of differentiation as it joins the rest of the web sniffing for Googlejuice. This is not just an admission that the BBC needs that Googlejuice more than ever if it is to compete as a source of definitive news authority with the increasing proliferation of nichepapers and the increasing sophistication of search technology itself. This is a thoughtful and potentially impressive way to utilise a core BBC advantage in that hunt- hundreds of journalists producing thousands of pages, soon with millions of deep, outbound links.
So yes, in one more than one sense it puts the BBC where good bloggers were in 2002 - chasing recognition from other news providers by linking to them, and thereby optimising each page tightly and specifically for search. If you're training journalists to write for the web you tell them to link out, and not just to La Wik (or the BBC) because that doesn't really help Google understand what the page is about - you tell them to link to something niche and relevant (and, yes, well-optimised for the subject in question). And now, rather than resting on its historical - and virtually unparalleled - authority with the search engines as a source of news, so does the BBC, helping both readers but just as importantly the Google search robot follow more useful links than ever.