Online news: from linearity to networked contents. A study of hyperlink structures, starting from the websites of the francophone daily press.
The hyperlink lies at the heart of the concept of the Web. When considering the restricted field of online news, it also emerges as a key issue: it is said to be the first reliquary of interactivity (one of the main values of online news), an important organizing principle or a symptom of authority and credibility. Therefore, the networks weaved by hyperlinks are fertile ground for exploration. An emerging research field focuses on this issue and attempts to map domains of the World Wide Web in order to reveal and make sense of the mesh of connections going through an online territory. Those attempts stand at the crossroads between social sciences, cartography and the blend of physics and mathematics embodied in network sciences. Mapping the hyperlinked environment of online news websites is the main challenge of my research. In order to do so, two main trains of thought are expounded. First, there is an unavoidable reflection on the role of hypertextuality in the news landscape. It is framed within the examination of online news mythology, and implies weighing the promises associated with the hyperlink—namely, better accessibility to information, increased diversity and an accurate assessment of authority. The second axis aims at revealing the hyperlink structures surrounding the websites of the francophone daily press. This aim requires deliberation on the tools and the methods needed for both harvesting the data (i.e., the hyperlinks) and processing it to make it intelligible. The issue of harvesting the data addresses questions such as the relevancy of automatic crawling, the difficulty to achieve a closed, stable corpus and the impact of the analysis on the data. The issue of processing the data deals with questions of representations and visualizations of complex networks. The hyperlink maps describe the surroundings of the studied websites and allow a comparison as well as discovery of relational properties otherwise invisible (i.e. undetectable using a search engine or other traditional navigation tools). The function of hyperlinks in the context of news is fully investigated. These results will than be confronted with the conditions of production of online news. Using more traditional methods (such as interviews or newsroom ethnography), this research investigates the people behind the websites, and tries to reinstate hyperlink networks in the context of the journalists’ professional practices and identity.