Journalism – like scholarship – relies on citation, primary information, and credibility.
Perma.cc sprung up as a direct answer to a problem identified in legal scholarship: originally a tool in the fight legal link rot, and it has become a staple in the lives of many law students as they write for their journals and even after they leave school.
It’s important to note, though, that the basis of our code – literally and figuratively – is not unique to the legal field. While we’re a team of librarians and coders who work in a law library, the tools we build are for everyone.
Link rot is a not a issue unique to the law world: as we started exploring our user base outside of academia, one of the first user groups that came to the forefront was journalists, for whom link rot is a problem from many angles.
For an industry that in many ways now relies on click counts and interconnected content for revenue streams and user statistics, there are hang ups when it comes to freezing web content in the way that Perma.cc does. Nonetheless, it is an issue that should be considered as part of the journalistic ecosystem.
As you can see in this article from The Atlantic authors do not have a singular approach to web references. This particular article, published less than a year and a half ago, contains 25 linked citations. One of them is a Perma record, which has preserved a copy of a criminal procedure law will be available to readers in the long term. It makes sense for that particular citation to be frozen in time, as it is important to capture the law at that very moment it is referenced, not what it may be in the future. 23 of the other 24 links still send readers to a live source, for now. They are largely links to other news sites and in the short term having live links works well. One link however found in the fifth paragraph – which cites a study that is a central aspect of the article’s argument – leads readers to a 404 error page.
The story is the same with this article, also less than a year and a half old, from Time that has a 404 error on a link to their own website. On the flip side, in the first paragraph, the author uses a Perma Link to reference an event held at her alma mater’s church. That decision proved to be a wise one, since that link no longer works. Other URLs send readers to sites that are currently live, but obviously are vulnerable.
For journalists, it is interesting to see what type of content is viewed as stable (other news organizations – despite frequent site restructuring like is seen at Time) versus ephemeral (calendar listings).
Are you a journalist? Where are these lines for you? What do you consider ephemeral versus stable when you’re citing the web? Does your newsroom have rules when it comes to maintaining click tracking? Do you take link rot into consideration at all as you choose your internet sources?