It's no longer acceptable online to make a naked assertion on a controversial subject without at least a link to back it up, at least not for anyone practicing serious journalism and writing a news story. But here's what appeared in the New York Times online today in a story by John Broder headlined Energy Dept. Panel to Revise Standards for Gas Extraction:
"…the practice [hydraulic fracturing] also pours millions of gallons of dangerous chemicals into the ground and into wastewater treatment systems, which in some cases cannot remove all the potential toxins. There are also numerous documented cases in which fracking fluids leaked into aquifers [emphasis mine] and contaminated drinking water."
The article doesn't cite any of the "numerous documented cases"; it doesn't link to any source for this assertion. Although there have been allegations that fracking fluids leak into aquifers, there are good reasons why this is unlikely (see here) and I've never seen a "documented" case that it happened. I also believe he actually means millions of gallons of water which contain some toxic chemicals. Now I can be wrong and would like to know it if I am. I would've liked to follow a link from the NYTimes story to some documentation. But there is no link.
I understand why it's hard to put citations in print stories and this story also did appear in the paper edition. But paper now needs to be treated as the degenerate form of the story – the web makes it easy to link and easy for a reader to check sources and get more information. Links belong in online stories.
I modify my posts for print and sometimes have to remove links. If I think they're important for credibility, I put the text of the link into the article, although sometimes editors take those long strings out. If we're going to pay papers for online access (which I'm willing to do), we should expect good online practice to be followed. BTW, there is also no place for comments on this story in the online NYTimes, so I can't complain there.