The internet provides a useful tool for reporters to add important context to articles while keeping the actual text concise and readable.

Words in one article can be linked to other articles so that readers desiring to know more about a subject need only click or tap. Unfortunately,  these links are often generated automatically and fail to live up to their potential.

An Associated Press story in the New York Times shows the problem.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says it has demolished the home of a Palestinian convicted of being an accomplice to a deadly attack on Israelis last year.
 
The home in the West Bank city of Nablus was demolished early Tuesday. Amjad Elewi is serving two life sentences for assisting in the “planning and execution” of a shooting attack that killed two Israelis who were driving their car in the West Bank.

Destroying someone’s home is a serious act and the details of Elewi’s crime should have been mentioned in more detail. It wasn’t overly difficult for me to find the details, but it wasn’t simple either.

When I googled Elewi’s name, at first I did not find articles about his specific crime. I did find articles that mentioned other Palestinians who were arrested with him.

I then googled their names and cross-referenced the material that came up. I checked the dates and location and then his crime became clear:

Elewi was found guilty in the “planning and execution” of the ambush of the Henkins, an Israeli family. Terrorists forced their car off the road and murdered Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in front of their children.

I believe that these details should have been included in the article. The reader would have more information than just that Elewi was imprisoned for “a shooting attack that killed two Israelis who were driving their car in the West Bank.”

Yet, even if it should have included more, the above sentence is correct. The problem with it is that it lacks important details. Readers will probably not spend time googling and cross referencing names to find these details.

The article could have included these details by adding a hyperlink. If the words “shooting attack” were linked to an external article, then the readers would have the facts at their fingertips.

Instead, the article links the word “Palestinian.” A reader clicking on that link would have a new window open up containing:

News about The Palestinian Authority, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

Here are some of the stories in this section:

  • West Bank Settlers Prepare for Clash with Israeli Government
  • For Mahmoud Abbas a Gesture. For Critics, a Betrayal
  • Mahmoud Abbas to Attend Shimon Peres Funeral, but Thaw with Israel Unlikely
  • Netanyahu and Abbas at UN General Assembly
  • Mahmoud Abbas: Out to Push Palestinian Agenda Back to Top of Agenda

Scroll a bit further and you even get:

  • Mahmoud Abbas Claims Rabbis Urged Israel to Poison Palestinians’ Water.

How are these articles relevant to the original AP story? Those who want to know more about why Israel is demolishing Elewi’s home only get a selection of the struggles of the PA President.

Instead of being a useful tool for readers, the link in this story is just a distraction, shedding no more information on the subject matter of the article.

No part of an article should be automatically generated. Links within articles are as important as graphics, sidebars, and headlines. Together, they should provide the reader with all the important details and context.

Here is an example of a great use of a link:

For more like this, check out The Center for Analyzing Media Coverage of Israel.