News org wikis or contextual archives?
January 31, 2009 § 10 Comments
This idea is not new. But it has been bubbling in my head for a few months: how to incorporate a wiki or wikis into our online content. We’ve tried a couple of wikis in the past couple years as part of our in-depth series but we struggled with how to allow contributions. We ended up only allowing comments/threads. Not what most people would consider a wiki.
About 2 years ago Amy Grahan wrote a column over at Poynter about the idea of news org wikis. She wrote:
Most notably, wikis can transcend the short attention span and fragmented view of issues and events inherent in traditional story-format reporting. With a wiki, no topic ever really “scrolls off the home page.” Wiki pages are forever active — even if they lie fallow for long stretches of time. And interested people can continue to watch and edit these pages indefinitely.”
In her post Amy asks for examples of wikis implemented by news orgs. As far as I can tell there were no examples given of implementation as I envision it.
A number of experiments with wikis have already shown its potential to both reach out to a readership – and to fall flat on its face. An example of the latter was the LA Times ‘wikitorial’ – an editorial piece on the Iraq war which the newspaper allowed readers to edit. After only a day the newspaper had to pull the feature due to readers flooding the site with inappropriate material.
On the positive side, however, was Wired’s experiment with the form late last year, when they allowed readers to whip an unedited article about (yes) wiki technology into shape. Over 300 users made edits, with one interviewing a Harvard expert, and another suggesting a contact – and when one user complained about some quotes from an interviewee, the original journalist, Ryan Singel, posted his interview notes so that users could pick a better one.
Paul also posted a more in-depth examination of possible uses of wikis in news orgs. In that post he wrote:
Internally, wikis also allow news operations to coordinate and manage a complex story which involves a number of contributors. News organisations interested in transparency might also publish the wiki ‘live’ as it develops, so readers can view as it develops, and look at previous versions, while the discussion space which accompanies each entry also has the potential to create a productive dialogue with users.
This refers to the idea of using a wiki to develop a story online.
Typically a story is posted on a news org website which occasionally generates a list of related stories. Perhaps a photo or two are posted as well. If there is a video, that might be embedded into the story. And usually that is the end of context.
My wiki/archive idea would work like this:
A story posted on a new org website would also have a link to its wiki/archive page. The wiki/archive page would display all related content in a chronological thread (maybe utilizing some nifty AJAX coding so that you don’t have an endlessly scrolling experience.)
- related stories including any comments posted by the public
- multimedia including slideshows, etc.
- related tags
- a timeline
- annotations by editors and reporters
- Online vandalism. Shane Richmond wrote a piece on this for the Telegraph UK. Shane wrote:
The trouble is Wikipedia, as ‘the public face of wikis’ is frequently derided for inaccuracies and vandalism. Will the mainstream media be able to surmount those problems?
…will the wiki dream be killed off through the fear of cyber vandals treating our news websites as virgin walls for virtual graffiti?
- The NY Times recently reported on Wikipedia incorporating a new system to keep those types of edits off. We could have a stringent registration process but I’m not sure that it would be a wiki at that point.
- Too much transparency. In my opinion this isn’t a reasonable concern. Strike-throughs and footnotes should be included in stories on news org websistes to alert the reader to errors or edits. Many news orgs are already doing this.
- Information overload. This feature may not be useful for many stories or even for many news org customers. But with a well designed interface it would be a great resource for community members to follow stories that have developed over months or years.
- Not many users know what wikis are. Paul Bradshaw sites some statistics:
Finally, one of the biggest disadvantages may be readers’ lack of awareness of what a wiki even is: only 2% of Internet users even know what a wiki is, although similar statistics were once applicable to blogs.
So maybe calling it a wiki is the wrong thing to do. Maybe it would be more precise to call it a contextual archive of news stories. Although I think incorporation wiki conventions such as public input via comments and edits (after a reasonable registration to preclude trolls) should be a big part of this feature.
What do you think are the pros and cons of something like this; for journalists and consumers of information? Are there news orgs already doing this?