The headline used by Nieman Lab on its recap of a study conducted on how labeling the source of a link within a story impacts the trust assigned to that story is this:
When a link to a news story shows the source of the story, some people end up trusting it less
That’s technically accurate. It doesn’t, though, address the bigger issues revealed in the study. A more high-level headline and one that more accurately encompasses the findings might read like this:
The reputation of the source a news story links to impacts the trust people put in the story itself
See the difference? My version gets to the core issue identified in the study, which is that readers will judge your story based on the reputation of the sites you’re linking to.
Put in a more actionable way: Be careful who you link to, because their reputation will become your reputation.
This has, of course, always been the case. Ever since the early days of the blogging web you could instantly judge someone based on who they included in their blogroll or otherwise linked to. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why legacy publications refused for so long to link to sources or commentary outside their own walls, because they didn’t want their reputation tarnished by officially associating themselves with anyone questionable.
At its core, the findings corroborate the old adage “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.” The same can be said for the links you share.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.