Down East 2013 ©
Last week, the MaineToday Media newspapers began including a new kind of hyperlink in stories posted on its Web sites. Unlike the usual links that took readers to earlier stories on the same subject, transcripts of speeches, background information or important documents, these links, imbedded in a seemingly random assortment of words, connected to pop-up advertising.
There was plenty wrong with that idea.
Until now, links in news stories were part of online journalism, giving readers who wanted more in-depth material easy access to it. The new policy essentially blurred the line between news and advertising by allowing businesses to purchase pop-ups inside any article they chose. It also deceived anyone who clicked on the links thinking that would bring them to additional information.
There was a real potential for conflicts, with companies possibly buying links in stories about themselves in order to mitigate negative news. Or they could stick their ads in favorable pieces about their competition to mute that positive publicity.
But perhaps the most offensive thing about the new links was that some idiot included them in an August 1 feature obituary  about a couple who had been married sixty-four years and died within hours of each other, thereby turning what should have been a celebration of their lives into a chance for MaineToday to shill for a computer maker.
Somebody at MTM must have realized they’d crossed a line, as the advertising links had vanished from the sites by mid-morning. Whether they’re gone for good – indicating some spark of journalistic and human integrity still remains at the Portland Press Herald, Morning Sentinel, and Kennebec Journal – or whether the use of them is just being reconsidered so as to be less overtly offensive, remains to be seen.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com .