Newspapers and the Long-Term Implications of Hyperlinking



This study examines the impact of hyperlinks as a mechanism for establishing interorganizational linkages. In specific, this research focuses on the effect of hyperlinks between newspaper organizations and new entrants into the news media community from 1999 to 2006. Through the lens of community ecology, the formation of hyperlinks is show to facilitate information sharing and knowledge exchange. The findings highlight the importance of hyperlinking in the online space, and demonstrate the underlying mechanisms that govern organizational network position over time. Existing organizations that establish ties to new entrants are shown to benefit through an increase in page views. Results demonstrate that early actions in the online news community had a clear and measurable impact on the news media industry.

This research examines the long-term impact of hyperlinking on organizations through an examination of the use of hyperlinks as a communicative tool for adapting to changes in the competitive environment. Furthermore, the transition of print-based newspaper organizations to an online media environment is examined through an analysis of the use of hyperlinks as a means of establishing partnerships to disseminate information and to optimize network position over time. In order to understand the nature of relationships between different types of organizations, a community ecological framework is utilized. Community ecology provides a basis for understanding how organizations interact over time with other organizations and the surrounding environment (Ruef, 2000), and is incorporated to show that the use of hyperlinks as a communicative tool impacts the trajectory of a given organization within the online ecosystem.

This analysis of organizational development in a digital environment focuses on the evolution of newspaper organizations. In the move to online news production, newspaper companies have struggled to find successful models for survival and growth despite a series of experiments with different approaches to online technology (Greer & Mensing, 2006). Managers tasked with overseeing digital strategy struggled to find the right approach early on, as illustrated by a business manager at a small West Coast newspaper: “Our site launched in 1995, but we didn't have a clear strategy in mind. We knew we needed some kind of presence, whatever that might be.1” Early decisions regarding the form of online enterprises and the digital structure of news media organizations varied widely. Research on organizational change has, however, clearly established that early adoption and business decisions impact the longitudinal growth of organizations (Carroll & Hannan, 2000). While it is clear that initial decisions regarding the use of technology, such as hyperlinks, have affected the trajectory of organizations, the long-term implications for organizations are not clearly understood. Media organizations today are immersed in a complex network of information sources, and they navigate that network through the ongoing formation and dissolution of alliances and hyperlinked connections (Halavais, 2008; Pennock, Flake, Lawrence, Glover, & Giles, 2002).

As a business manager at a major East Coast newspaper explained, “We’ve been experimenting on and off for a long time. We are constantly looking at how we tell a story, and how we make [our product] the best, both from within the newsroom and then also on the software and technology side.” Digital publishing and social networking are significant disruptions in the business environment; inertial organizations, in turn, must evolve deep-rooted organizational routines and structures in order to adapt (Romanelli & Tushman, 1994). In the following sections, the transition of traditional news media organizations into web-based media organizations is examined. Second, recent research is reviewed examining the role and nature of hyperlinks as an organizational tool. Third, the transformation of media organizations is framed as an issue of community evolution. The method, analysis and results of this study are discussed, and implications from the finding of the study are reviewed.

Newspapers and Hyperlinks

For more than a century, newspapers have existed as a stable population of organizations with a strong level of readership and revenue. In recent years, however, the business environment has changed dramatically; according to the Newspaper Association of America, the average weekday readership for all newspapers in 2006 was 124 million consumers, but by 2010 that number had declined to 95 million. As general readership trends have decreased, so too has the number of newspapers in production, from more than 1,600 in 1990 to roughly 1,500 in 2006 (World Press Trends, 2007). At the same time, the emergence of the blogosphere in 2001 accelerated consumer adoption of Internet technology and marked an increase in online news consumption. The growth of blogs such as and, and shifts in user preferences, are indicative of the development of blogs as a critical source of information, particularly for regional news and local events (Katz & Lai, 2009).

The early 2000s marked the emergence of a new form of online news, the news blog, that was differentiated from traditional print news in that it is a digital product, has a faster production cycle, and has a different set of core technologies. Traditional news media organizations initiated a wide array of adaptive strategies, including the deployment of robust web portals, the integration of user-generated content initiatives, the formation alliances and partnerships with blogs and user-generated content sites, and a complete realignment of organizational goals and imperatives (Boczkowski, 2004a). Boczkowski's (2004b) research demonstrates that the work practices and day-to-day routines of individuals within newsrooms transformed significantly due, in part, to changes in technology. This is echoed in the experiences of reporters across the United States. A reporter at an East Coast newspaper explained, “There were a few [reporters] working on the website from the early days who understood about building an audience. Now we’ve just found that unless you’re online, open and bringing people in, this business won't work.”

As competition has increased in the online news media community, hyperlinks serve as indicators of relationships with content providers, media partners and other media outlets. News organizations have experimented with strategies to partner and share content with other online information sources (Chyi & Yang, 2009; Robinson, 2009). In the case of news media, some organizations have aggressively adapted to online information environments, whereas others remained isolated and wary of hyperlinking to other partners (Lasica, 2002, 2003; Sterling, 2008). The connections between organizations provide access to information, and establish ties between various news organizations; this work considers this links as a central component of organizational development over time.

An Ecological Perspective of Media Organizations and Hyperlink Networks

Community ecology posits that the evolution of an organization occurs in the context of interactions with other organizations, and competition for resources in the surrounding environment (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006; Miller et al., 2011; Monge, Heiss, & Margolin, 2008; Monge et al., 2011). Populations of organizations evolve based on interactions with one another, and as a result of changes in the surrounding environment (Koka, Madhavan, & Prescott, 2006), the availability of raw resources (Cheng & Kesner, 1997; Swaminathan, 2001), and the introduction of new technology (Lawless & Anderson, 1996), among other factors. In this context, newspaper organizations are viewed as one population competing for resources (advertising dollars, audience attention, market share) in the online space against other populations of media organizations including blogs, television stations (i.e.,, and magazines. These populations of organizations, denoted by their common form2 , compete with one another for scare resources within a common environmental resource space, with the fittest populations thriving while others fail to evolve (Astley, 1985; Ruef, 2000). The evolutionary perspective of organizations provides a multilevel approach useful for examining organizational change (see Miller, et al., 2011 for an overview). This approach treats longitudinal organizational interaction as a function of available resources in the environment and interaction between organizations (for a detailed review of community ecology mechanisms applied in the organizational setting see Monge et al., 2009). Variation is viewed as a driving force of community growth. In the absence of selective pressure, variation has the potential to create a wide swath of new organizational forms and populations (Astley, 1985). Organizations that fail to evolve, or to adapt to changing environmental conditions, are selected out of competition; new entrants mimic more successful organizations, and less successful forms move towards obsolescence. In turn, organizations that adapt optimize their fitness relative to the environment, maximizing utilization of available resources (Ruef, 1997). In the case of online media organizations, this is seen as information, audience attention and advertising dollars.

The transformation of print-based news media organizations in the online space can thus be examined by looking at a single population of organizations that compete against various other populations of social media organizations, television stations, radio stations, and other media organizations for scarce resources (e.g., viewers, advertising dollars, and skilled employees). The broad corpus of these resources constitutes the environmental space within which newspapers compete. The community within which these populations compete can be defined as “a set of coevolving organizational populations joined by ties of commensalisms and symbiosis through their orientation to a common technology, normative order, or legal-regulatory regime” (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006, p. 301). Through the ecological lens, scholars have focused on numerous issues central to the process of organizational transformation (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006; Hannan & Freeman, 1977; Ruef, 2000). This body of emphasizes the process by which emergent organizations compete to occupy niches of available resources, ultimately seeking legitimacy through growth in the density of an emergent organizational form.

Within communities, symbiosis describes relationships where “individuals complement one another in the performance of their respective assignments; they enter into mutual dependences based on their functional differences” (Hawley, 1986, p. 30). Symbiotic relationships most often occur between populations, and are mutual, given that both organizations are engaged in the relationship. Commensalist relationships, on the other hand, occur when similar populations engage in “co-actions” (Rao, 2007, p. 541). Commensalistic ties will often be mutually beneficial in nature, yet may become competitive when two organizations move into competition for a common or limited set of resources. Scholars have recently emphasized the importance of both commensalistic and symbiotic ties on organizational growth and transformation (Ahgren, 2010; Dobrev & Kim, 2006; Ingram & Inman, 2006; Reschke & Kraus, 2009). Audia, Freeman and Reynolds (2006) further demonstrated that both commensalistic and symbiotic ties are indicative of information transfer between populations and can drive organizational growth and an increase in founding rates of new organizational forms.

Organizations, Adaptation, and Hyperlinks

Monge, Heiss, and Margolin (2008) explicate a networks approach to community ecology, advocating a shift from focusing on organizations as objects to an inclusive perspective that analyzes both organizations and the nature of ties between organizations. Information is a vital resource in the process of organizational growth and transformation (Audia, et al., 2006; Uzzi, 1997). Resources available to an organization, such as information, are often obtained through either competition or direct contact with other organizations, and with other populations; in turn, flows of resources between organizations is representational of the networks that exist between organizations (Audia et al., 2006). From an ecological perspective, hyperlinks provide a map of representational networks, revealing the organizational structure as it is enacted in the online environment. Indeed, a number of studies have used hyperlinks to map the general online structure of interorganizational relationships through an analysis of linking patterns (Chon, Choi, Barnett, Danowski, & Joo, 2003; Park, 2003; Park & Thelwall, 2008; Weber & Monge, 2011).

In the online environment, hyperlinks between different types of organizations facilitate learning, and provide access to information about innovations and new technologies (Hansen, Mors, & Lovas, 2005). Organizations operating in online environments use hyperlinks to establish relationships with other organizations, sharing information and acknowledging competitors (Halavais, 2008; Park, 2003; Pennock, et al., 2002). Thus, hyperlinks can be used to recognize affiliations and associations between organizations; en masse they represent the structure of a group of organizations and guide the movement of users between those organizations (Halavais, 2008). In this way, hyperlinking between organizations becomes a representative tool through which organizational relationships are acknowledged. In the online news media community, hyperlinks are thus the ties that bind; these linkages represent the affiliations and partnerships between media organizations. Furthermore, hyperlinks facilitate information sharing, and can even be utilized to demonstrate the intensity of relationships by mapping the degree of interconnectivity between organizations (Ackland, O’Neil, Bimber, Gibson, & Ward, 2006).

It is thus clear that hyperlinks can denote competitive relationships and serve as communicative acts between organizations. When framed as representative of organizational relationships, it is important to note that linkages between organizations make transformational processes less risky by providing resources and support, in part through information sharing (Baum & Oliver, 1991; Miner, Amurgey, & Stearns, 1990). Within the news media community, the growth of new organizational forms such as social networking sites and news blogs led to a marked increase in competition for user attention and advertising dollars. By establishing ties to these new populations, newspaper organizations in the online space are able to gain access to information, open avenues for exchanging information, and ultimately increase chances of survival within a given community.

Here then, symbiotic ties between populations are particularly critical when new forms emerge, as these ties establish legitimacy and allow existing organizations to learn from successful entrants (Rao, 2007). As previously noted, blogs represent a particularly successful type of online news source; blogs have typically created prolific linkages to a diverse array of organizations and draw on a wide variety of partners and information sources (Park & Jankowski, 2008; Rainie & Horrigan, 2005; Reese, Ruigliano, Hyun, & Jeong, 2007). Traditional news organizations that adapt and link to new entrants, such as blogs, are poised to gain access to knowledge about those organization types, and to a diverse network of information resources. As such, by establishing hyperlink ties early on to other emerging populations an organization may position itself to take advantage of new resources and new technology. Community ecology predicts that early access to new resources and information about new technology will aide in organization in transformation, and result in continued growth (Miner, 1994; Miner, et al., 1990). Thus, it follows that the formation of symbiotic ties between an existing organization and new organizational form will provide existing organizations with access to new resources (information) and will increase the profile of the existing organizational form.

H1A: The greater an existing organization's symbiotic ties to emergent populations, the greater the likelihood that an organization will attract new connections over time.

In the digital environment, new connections are likely to take the form of an increase in the formation of hyperlinks. Furthermore, when symbiotic relationships are established, the relationships tend towards reciprocity; the mutual dependency of symbiosis implies a reciprocal relationship but this mechanism is not entirely clear (Hawley, 1986). Furthermore, from the network perspective, those who receive links early on will continue to be linked to over time by entrants into the community (Barabasi, Albert, & Jeong, 2000; Capocci et al., 2006). This perspective has been reinforced by a number of studies that demonstrate that organizations with a greater number of hyperlinks influence search algorithms and increasingly become the target of inbound links (Pennock, et al., 2002). Inbound hyperlinks are highly relevant to success in their capacity to drive growth of audience (Gonzalez-Bailon, 2009). It follows that symbiotic relationships formed by existing organizations will contribute to continued audience growth.

H1B: The greater an existing organization's symbiotic ties to emergent populations, the greater the likelihood that an organization will grow its overall online audience.

On the other hand, commensalist ties insulate an organization within its own population, or within relationships with other similar populations. Yet as noted by Rao (2007), organizations with primarily commensalist ties will ultimately compete against similar types of organizations for resources. In other words, organizations that form commensalist relationships compete for common resources in a limited resource space. In terms of hyperlinking, a commensalistic approach to hyperlink formation restricts an organization's access to new information, but reinforces existing relationships within a resource space. Over time, this is likely to translate to a decrease in resource availability due to competition for a limited pool of resources and a diminishment of the organization's position within the overall network. This is expected to result in the formation of fewer connections over time:

H2A: The greater an existing organization's commensalistic ties, the lesser the likelihood that an organization will attract new connections over time.

Thus, existing organizations that establish relationships in a commensalistic pattern are likely to have limited opportunities to grow influence through network position, in part because opportunities for growth are limited within the existing resource space. When there is a propensity to attract fewer connections, overall growth is also likely to be hampered:

H2B: The greater an existing organization's commensalistic, the lesser the likelihood that an organization overall online audience will grow.

On the other hand, commensalistic ties that exist within populations of emergent organizations (new populations) reinforce the boundaries of a growing organizational form. As with existing organizational populations, it is expected that this type of competition will lead to a decrease in connection formation due to competition for resources. Furthermore, within emergent and growing populations, the increase in the number of competitors will further decrease the formation of new connections.

H3A: The greater an emergent organization's commensalistic ties, the lesser the likelihood that an organization will attract new connections over time.

There are, however, benefits to commensalistic relationships; for one, these types of ties allow organizations to monitor behavior by close competitors, and to maintain awareness of new innovations within the community (Audia, et al., 2006). Previous research has shown that commensalistic ties within developing populations drive early recognition of entrepreneurial opportunities (Carroll, Bigelow, Siedel, & Tsai, 1996). Thus, in emergent populations commensalistic ties are likely to enhance growth by buffering organizations against competition from existing organizations.

H3B: The greater an emergent organization's symbiotic ties, the lesser the likelihood that an organization overall online audience will grow.

In aggregate, these hypotheses examine the impact of commensalistic and symbiotic patterns of tie formation on organizations over time. These hypotheses are tested in the following sections against data mapping the development of the online news industry, framed through an evolutionary perspective of organizations. Analyzing hyperlinks as representative organizational ties, this analysis thus considers the use of hyperlinks as a communicative tool for adapting to changes in the competitive environment


Data Collection

Data for this study was extracted from the Internet Archive (, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that was established to maintain a historical record of Web sites. Data crawling and extraction was conducted using a custom Web crawler, HistoryCrawl, designed specifically to interface with the Internet Archive and extract hyperlink data from Web pages over time. The program allows users to input a number of parameters, including a seed sample of uniform resource locators (URLs), years to be sampled and the number of steps outward to be crawled. For this research project, the sample consisted of the top 100 newspaper Web sites in the United States in 2008 as rated by; after removing sites excluded from the archive, the sample list included 76 Web sites. Data were collected from 1999 through 2006. In all, with a starting set of 76 Web sites, a network of 11,195 Web sites was extracted. A tie was recorded between two Web sites if a link occurred four or more times within a given calendar year, in order to eliminate haphazard linking. After filtering for spam and unrelated content such as advertising, the number of Web sites was reduced to 1,212, including 352 news media organizations owned by 83 parent companies. Extracted data were stored in a link list format, and structured into four waves: t1—1999-2000; t2—2001-2002; t3—2003-2004; t4—2005-2006. Organizations were coded based on the type of organization; descriptive information about the data is available in the supplemental information. In addition to network data, open-ended interviews were conducted with online editors and business managers at a number of media organizations to more accurately assess how news media organizations utilized hyperlinks. Forty-eight interviews were conducted at both traditional and new media news organizations, with each interview lasting roughly 60 minutes. Interview data was used to contextualize the results of the network analysis, and are used illustratively throughout this analysis.


Symbiotic ties were recorded as a changing covariate to measure the number of symbiotic ties, defined as reciprocal hyperlinks between organizations in an existing population and organizations in an emergent population. The existing population of focus was newspaper organizations. The emergent population of focus was the population of news blogs.

Existing commensalist ties were recorded as a changing covariate to measure the number of commensalist ties that existed within the population of newspaper organizations (measured as reciprocal hyperlinks between newspapers). On the other hand, emergent commensalist ties were recorded as a changing covariate to measure the number of commensalist ties that existed within the population of news blogs as an emergent population (measured as reciprocal hyperlinks between blogs).

Pageviews was used as an estimate of the growth or decline in audience of a given Web site. Pageview data was collected from, and measured in units of 1,000. Data was measured based on yearly estimates of average page views per month (averaged for all months within a given year). In addition, in order to test H1B, H2B and H3B, three variables were included to test behavioral dynamics; pageviews x symbiotic ties, pageviews x existing commenalistic ties, and pageviews x emergent commensalistic ties. These three measures assess the differences in symbiotic ties, existing commensalistics ties and emergent commensalistic ties on pageview growth.

In addition to the above, a number of additional attributes used to control for offline organizational attributes as suggested by Gonzalez-Bailon (2009). These added measures include online age, organization age, and organization size. Online age was measured in years based on the first appearance of an organization in the Internet Archive. Organization age was measured based on the organization's founding date, as assessed based on an organization's self report or public records. Finally, organization size was estimated based on the offline viewership of a given organization (measured as circulation for newspaper companies).

Network Analysis

In order to test the longitudinal change of hyperlink networks, and the affect of organizational approaches to hyperlinking, Siena 4.0 (Ripley & Snijders, 2010) was used for analysis, and is based on the R open-source statistics framework. Siena is an actor-oriented estimation utilized for examining the development of a social network over time as the result of relational actions that occur between individual actors (Snijders, 2001, 2005; Snijders, Steglich, & Van de Bunt, 2010). Modeling the network with data regarding organizational strategy it is possible to estimate the impact of organizational approaches to hyperlinking, and the resulting effect on inlinking and outlinking over time. It is important, however, to note that Siena makes a number of assumptions about the behavior of the data and actors (the assumptions of Siena 4.0 are discussed in the supplemental section, as well as its applicability to organizational networks). Siena calculates rate change parameters and estimates the influence of modeled attributes. The estimated parameters are then compared against the observed values in the inputted data and the deviations are analyzed in order to estimate model convergence. Convergence is reached when the t-ratios for parameters are consistently less than 0.1. Parameters are determined to be significant when the estimate is greater than 1.96 the magnitude of the standard error (estimating significance at p < 0.05). In addition to the above, and in order to assess the general appropriateness of the model fit, collinearity of parameters is assessed based on a covariance matrix produced for each model.


Following Ripley and Snijders (2010), a model was estimated for the data by first establishing a baseline model including standard effects and critical attribute measures. In the second model, nonsignificant parameters were deleted and additional attribute measures were added to the model. Additional structural parameters were added as needed in order to reach convergence. Finally, the third model includes controls for estimated organizational age and size. Following previous studies (Gonzalez-Bailon, 2009; Snijders, 2001), models were conditioned against outdegree, which captures the likelihood that actors will send hyperlinks to others.

Thus, a baseline model was established in RSiena. The reciprocity parameter accounts for the formation of reciprocal ties between news media organizations. The transitive closure parameter estimates the formation of a tie between organizations A and B, where both organizations are connected to organization C. Popularity indegree measures the addition of hyperlinks controlling for the skewed indegree distribution. A number of higher-order structural parameters were included as well. Higher-order transitivity was modeled to measure the degree to which clustering was significant in the network. The indegree-outdegree assortivity effect was also included to account for the various paths of connectivity between organizations. The baseline model was calculated and nonsignificant parameters were removed. The first model included variables accounting for the formation of commensalistic and symbiotic ties. The second model added in variables controlling for organizational age and size.


Table 1 provides a descriptive summary of the longitudinal changes in the network over time. Give the relatively sparse density of the network (starting density = 0.0004; ending density = 0.0006), the relatively high number of nonlinks is not surprising and expected for hyperlink data. In addition, the table provides the Jacard index, measuring network turnover, for each time period; this value should be close to 0.50 in order to have enough power to estimate RSiena parameters (Snijders, 2001). The results of the RSiena analysis are summarized in Table 2. Parameter estimates are given on a logit scale, and as such should be interpreted as unstandardized effects. The table shows the three models that were constructed, building from the initial model through to the final model including all effects and attributes. In the final (full) model, all effects are included. The reciprocity parameter is negative and significant, indicating a general tendency to form nonreciprocal relationships. Similarly, the parameter for transitive closure is negative, extending the tendency to form one-way links beyond simple dyadic partnerships. Preferential attachment, as measured by the popularity indegree effect, is significant throughout, but the parameter value is relatively small in terms of absolute size. This indicates that preferential attachment is not a strong factor in this network.

Table 1.  Summary of network changes across time periods
Time Periodt1→ t2t2→ t3t3→ t4
0 → 0146782014676971467086
0 → 17028341090
1 → 0582694603
1 → 1100411071371
Table 2.  Results of RSiena Model 1999–2006
ParameterModel IModel IIModel III
  1. *indicates significance at p < 0.05.

Rate Parameters   
Structural Parameters   
 Transitive Closure1.18*1.15*1.09*
 Popularity Indegree0.22*0.19*0.18*
 In/Out Assortivity0.05
Attribute Effects:   
 Symbiotic (H1A)1.01*1.05*0.17*
 Existing Commensalist (H2A)
 Emergent Commensalist (H3A)1.46*1.42*1.41*
 Pageviews x Symbiotic (H1B)0.24*0.26*
 Pageviews x Em. Comm. (H2B)0.110.13
 Pageviews x Ex. Comm.(H3B)−0.08−0.04
 Online Age034
 Organization Age0.25
 Organizations Size1.02*

Hypothesis 1(a) predicted that the greater an existing organization's symbiotic ties to emergent populations, the greater the likelihood that an organization will attract new connections. The model results for the symbiotic ties parameter are positive and significant (0.17, SE = 0.05), indicating that increases in the number of symbiotic ties corresponds to an increase in tie formation, and support for hypothesis 1(a). Hypothesis 1(b) predicted that the greater an existing organization's symbiotic ties to emergent populations, the greater the likelihood that an organization will grow its overall online audience. The behavioral dynamic parameter pageviews x symbiotic was positive and significant (0.26, SE = 0.12), indicating that organizations with a high number of symbiotic ties experienced a stronger increase in pageviews. Thus, hypothesis 1(b) is supported.

Hypothesis 2(a) predicted that the greater an existing organization's commensalistic ties, the lesser the likelihood that an organization will attract new connections. The model results for the existing commensalist parameter are positive, but not significant (0.26, SE = 0.15), indicating that hypothesis 2(a) is not supported. Hypothesis 2(b) predicted that the greater an existing organization's commensalistic, the lesser the likelihood that an organization overall online audience will grow. Again, the parameter for this hypothesis was positive, but not significant (0.13, SE = 0.09)

Hypothesis 3(a) predicted that the greater an emergent organization's commensalistic ties, the lesser the likelihood that an organization will attract new connections. The model results for the emergent commensalist parameter are positive and significant (1.41, SE = 0.50), indicating that support for hypothesis 3(a). Emergent organizations with a high number of commesalistic ties are likely to attract new connections. Hypothesis 3(b) predicted that the greater an emergent organization's symbiotic ties, the lesser the likelihood that an organization overall online audience will grow. The parameter for this hypothesis was negative, but not significant (−0.04, SE = 0.05).


This study examined the formation of hyperlinks in online environments as a mechanism for shaping organizational developing over time, and for gaining access to new information and knowledge; in this way, hyperlinks are viewed as communicative tools utilized to form organizational relationships. The formation of both commensalistic and symbiotic relationships between populations further shape access to information, and guide the manner in which an organization adapts to changing environmental conditions. Existing organizations that establish symbiotic relationships with emergent organizations are able to learn about news modes of media production, and gain access to new information. On the other hand, existing organizations that build commensalistic relationships use hyperlinking as a tool to insulate against outside organizations, and ultimately compete for an increasingly restricted pool of available resources. Yet commensalistic relationships may also prove beneficial. For instance, emergent organizations can utilize commensalistic relationships as a mechanism for buffering against competition and allowing the population time to mature. Hyperlinks provide mutual benefits for organizations; they direct traffic between organizations and, by serving as a directory of information sources, the linking organization increases the likelihood that users will return. In turn, the establishment of these links helps to shape the development of both a population and the community over time.

Based on the results of the longitudinal network analysis of hyperlink ties between media organizations, there support, in part, for both Hypotheses 1 and Hypothesis 3. With regards to the first hypothesis, Hypothesis 1(a) was supported: existing newspaper organizations that established symbiotic relationships with emergent organizational forms, such as news blogs, were likely to receive a greater number of connections over time compared to those without symbiotic partnerships. Furthermore, hypothesis 1(b) was supported, indicating that the formation of symbiotic ties further led to an increase in page views; here then, from an ecological view, the growth of symbiotic ties is shown to contribute to the overall fitness of the organization. In addition, support for hypothesis 3(a) demonstrates that emergent organizations that establish commensalistic ties are likely to receive a greater number of connections over time. Although this finding demonstrates that commensalistic ties can lead to an increase in connections between organizations, there was no connection to an increase in pageviews (indicated by the lack of support for hypothesis 3(b)). Furthermore, the lack of support for hypotheses 2 (a) and (b) indicates that commensalistic ties do not have a strong or significant impact on existing organizational forms.

Based on the results of this analysis, when existing organizations establish ties to new organizations in early time periods they will receive a significantly higher proportion of inlinks over time. At first glance, this echoes a notion of preferential attachment, yet symbiotic ties are mutual in nature. In other words, the benefits of information exchange and affiliation are realized when the symbiotic relationship is engaged in by both parties. On the other hand, looking at new entrants into the community, the results show that emergent organizations that establish ties with other new entrants will gain more connections in the long run. Blogs, for instance, often established connections to other blogs through blog roll listings; these ties reinforce the network of organizations, yet the results show this type of relationship does not increase pageviews in the long run. Overall, however, these findings demonstrate the impact that hyperlink formation has on news media organizations; choices regarding link formation between populations affects future formation of hyperlinks, and in the symbiotic case were shown to influence growth in pageviews.

Although hyperlinks are often perceived of as temporal in nature (Halavais, 2008), these findings demonstrate the long lasting impact of early decisions on both the formation and receipt of interorganizational linkages. Hyperlinks further help to govern the flow of information online, and by affecting the formation of interorganizational ties may also influence organizational position over time in online environments. From an evolutionary perspective, the formation of hyperlinks is indicative of the symbiotic and commensalist nature of interaction between populations competing within a common resource space; formulating hyperlinks as interorganizational ties, the evolutionary perspective provides insight into the use of hyperlinks as a relational tool as organizations navigate online environments and seek new information.

Indeed, as newspaper organizations have developed an online presence, editors within these organizations become aware of the critical role that hyperlinks have on organizational growth. As one online editor at the Boston Globe noted:

We’ve always said that it's important to link. For example, it's not enough to just be talking about a United Nations (UN) report and not to actually link to the UN, or to that report or even to something that mentions the UN. To try and pretend that you’re the only site on the Internet is very old media and oh so very shortsighted. (Anonymous, 2009)

Here then, hyperlinking is a mechanism for providing users with information that cannot readily be provided by the organization itself. The rapid growth of social networking sites such as,, and Orkut continues to propagate the growth of the link economy and push news organizations to adapt to a linked news environment. As media becomes increasingly social, this mechanism will prove more important to news organizations.

Here then, hyperlinks are shown to have an impact on organizational position and growth over time. As traditional news organizations move into the online space, the formation of online partnerships will impact future growth. Traditional newspaper organizations have long been restrained by a hesitancy to establish hyperlinks; the creation of links guides information flow to organizations receiving hyperlinks and served as a legitimating act (Halavais, 2008). Yet at the same time creating ties to new organizational forms provides access to information and knowledge about new business practices (Baum & Oliver, 1991). Overall, hyperlinks clearly impact the evolutionary course of organizations in an online environment, particularly as new populations of organizations interact with established organizations, and vice versa.

Limitations and Future Research

A number of limitations bound the findings of this study. First, data extracted from the Internet Archive is often not continuous in nature; links are samples at random points in time, and Web sites can self-select out of the archive. Although hand verification of the data has shown the current sample to be generally reliable, the exclusion of certain Web sites certainly impacts the accuracy of the results. With regards to measures of organizational performance this study focused on pageviews as a central measure. This is certainly not the optimal measure of organization performance, yet financial data is not readily available given that many of the media organizations included in this study are private organizations. Thus, pageview data was drawn from the online data service Quantcast (; this data estimates pageviews, which in turn impact the ability of an organization to attract advertising dollars. Notably, this study focused only on strong ties—those that had been established four or more times in one year. Such a tie does not necessarily imply a formal relationship between two organizations, but it does show a clear awareness of a connection between the two organizations. Future studies would benefit from utilizing a smaller sample for which true fiscal measures are available, in order to more accurately assess the connection between hyperlinks and financial performance. Finally, content on the Web sites was also not analyzed. Both of these limitations present clear opportunities for future studies, and would significantly enhance our understanding of the evolutionary behavior of Web sites. For example, analyzing content would provide context for understanding the nature of links and whether or not they are embedded in the text of the story.

This study presents a strong argument for the value of examining an evolutionary mechanism that guide interorganizational structure online. Future research in this area should take two key future directions. First, scholars should continue to develop techniques to analyze large scale linking patterns such as those extracted from the Internet Archive. Additional analysis will further enhance knowledge of the effect decisions regarding online interorganizational ties, and of early tie formation on organizational relationships in online environments. Second, the mechanisms underlying symbiosis and commensalism in online environments should be further deconstructed and analyzed; the ecological framework provides an important framework for understanding longitudinal change, but more work is needed to understand the implications of ecological analysis in rapidly changing environments. While many have written of the importance of the link economy, researchers would be well served to continue to examine the utilization of hyperlinks as an organizational and strategic tool.

The digital information landscape is becoming increasingly complicated, particularly with the growth of social media, and there is a clear need for further studies examining an increasingly complicated online information environment. Both organizations and technology evolve at a fast pace in online environments. In turn, population boundaries and organizational ties are increasingly fluid, yet it is clear that hyperlinks between organizations impact organizational position and growth in over time.


The author would like to thank Peter Monge, Manuel Castells and Mark Kennedy for their comments on a previous draft of this research, as well as the invaluable comments received from the three anonymous reviewers. The author would also like to thank the Internet Archive and Amazon Inc. for their support of this research.


  • 1

    Anonymous quotations were collected in the course of research. The interview methodology is detailed later in the text.

  • 2

    Populations of organizations, such as traditional news media organizations, are defined as those having a common form .().(Carroll & Hannan, 2000), where organizational forms are the constitutive structure, rules, processes and normative order that creates the organization .().(Hannan & Freeman, 1977).

About the Author

Matthew S. Weber is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Rutgers University. His recent research focuses on processes of organizational transformation and adaptation to new technology, with an emphasis on changes in the news media industry.

Address: Department of Communication, Rutgers University, 4 Huntington St., New Brunswick, NJ 08901.