Bob Tedeschi reported in The New York Times today that The New York Sun, The Washington Post, and The Daily Oklahoman have signed with news aggregator Inform to automatically add automatically generated and updated outbound links from stories on their online versions to other publications and blogs. The Times itself is also adding external links, although not through Informs.
The impetus, of course is advertising. The papers are losing print advertising and online ads aren't yet making up the difference. So, the papers are taking another step away from recreating print in the electronic world and taking advantage of the key advantage of the web.
All of the papers featured in the story started out with no external links. You've heard the rationale: you spend so much time creating your web site that you want to make sure it's sticky--not send people to a competitor.
But the way people use the web is as a, well, web. The links will open in new windows, so the papers won't necessarily lose the traffic. What people undoubtedly do when they want more information is to Google the story in another window anyway. Why not make the paper the hub of the information and capture that traffic?
I suppose the scholarly publishing equivalent is reference linking. There was certainly fear about linking to a competitive site before CrossRef made it possible and practically essential to link the references of one article to the others it cited. Of course, the reference section of scholarly papers are peer reviewed with the rest of the text. I wonder how dynamically generated links to contemporaneous articles would be received.