Vice editor unloads on New York Times for failing to link

The heated social media tirade followed a New York Times story that aggregated content from a Vice News scoop.
The front of the New York Times building in New York City. (Photo by samchills on Flickr / Creative Commons image)

A Vice News editor unloaded on the New York Times in a profanity-laden tirade on Monday over the newspaper’s consistent failure to link to external news websites in articles that contain aggregated reporting.

Jason Koebler, the chief editor of Vice News technology site Motherboard, criticized the newspaper and two of its reporters for re-purposing information from a news article published by the technology blog on Monday without linking to the article itself.

The scoop focused on Jeffrey Toobin, a CNN legal analyst and New Yorker magazine contributor who was allegedly caught masturbating during a video conference call with his journalism colleagues last week. Toobin has been placed on leave or requested time off from three news organizations that employ him. He later told Vice News the incident was an embarrassing mistake.

The incident — and specific details from it — were first published by Vice News early Monday morning. The report by Motherboard writer Laura Wagner was widely disseminated on social media by those who work in the media industry and was re-purposed in news articles published by other outlets.

New York Times reporters Johnathan Diaz and Azi Paybarah were among the media reporters who re-purposed Wagner’s information for their own write-ups on the incident. But the Times article published on Monday didn’t include a hyperlink to the original Vice News story, something that stoked the ire of Koebler who unloaded on the news outlet and the journalists in a series of tweets.

“New York Times, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Koebler questioned. “Learn to link, you fuckheads. I’m done being nice to the New York Times about linking! Enough of this! Fuck you!”

Late Monday evening, the Times updated its article to include a three-word hyperlink to the Vice News story — but the hyperlink only came after Koebler tagged both Times reporters in several follow-up tweets during his Twitter rant. (The Desk reached out to a Times spokesperson to find out about the newspaper’s policy and to ask why the story on Toobin didn’t contain a link to Vice’s article. The inquiry has not been returned as of Tuesday morning.)

Koebler’s rant comes nearly a year after he co-authored a column for Vice that pointed to the newspaper’s consistency in being inconsistent when it comes to hyperlinking to articles that originate outside of its newsroom. The piece included several examples of the Times franchising information from news reports published by Vice, Gawker, Slate, BuzzFeed and the Guardian without inserting a hyperlink.

For digital journalists, hyperlinks are seen as a critical component of proper attribution and sourcing: When a large news organization like the New York Times either forgets to link or chooses not to, it deprives smaller publications of web traffic, which can be critical for digital publication that depend on clicks. Journalists who find their content franchised elsewhere without a link back to the original article often feel bigger newsrooms are unjustifiably enriching themselves at the expense of smaller newsrooms.

In 2015, an essay published by Nieman Lab suggested clunky, outdated content management systems used by newspapers weren’t adept at handling hyperlinks and other digital elements. That same year,  former New York Times ombudsman Margaret Sullivan admitted her newspaper’s antiquated system combined with confusing newsrooms policies fostered an environment where the paper did not routinely credit other news organizations with a link in its reporting.

Four years later, the Times admitted it was still not good at linking to outside news coverage. In a memo written by the newspaper’s standards editor and obtained (and published) by Koebler at Vice, the Times acknowledged it was consistent in linking to its own past coverage but still wildly inconsistent about linking externally.

Philip Corbett, the newspaper’s standards editor, was hoping to change this once and for all: In the memo, Corbett wrote that external hyperlinks to other news organizations “is the ultimate win-win-win situation” that benefits its journalists and readers alike.

“Linking routinely to the work of others can erase the perception — often exaggerated, but not altogether wrong — that the Times can be aloof, self-obsessed and ungenerous in acknowledging the work of others,” Corbett wrote.

Corbett encouraged writers to link when possible because “it’s free and easy, readers like it, it deepens our journalism and may increase our audience, [and] our journalist colleagues appreciate it.”

“Why wouldn’t we?” Corbett asked.

One year later, Koebler is apparently wondering the same.

“Don’t say sorry. Just link to us,” Koebler wrote in his penultimate tweet on the matter. “Don’t make excuses, just link to us. Don’t say anything, just fucking link to us. This is outrageous.”

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