News Wikis

Today Joey Baker tweeted about a link to a blog post on the Nieman Journalism Lab which talks about the author’s vision of the future of digital news creation and utilization. One of the core concepts was the idea that a wiki would serve as an authoritative information source, to which blog or news posts would point for background while providing just new tidbits of information themselves. This reminded me of Daniel Bachhuber’s post on topical wikis on the CoPress blog a few months ago. Daniel and I had had a personal conversation about the topic, but I’m not sure I really understood it at the time.

Since that talk with Daniel, I’ve been hard at work on Courant News and thinking about the problems of actual journalistic content production from the editorial standpoint instead of the purely technical standpoint with which I was more familiar. As a result, I think that this idea actually has much more merit than I initially gave it credit for, and could serve as a valuable tool for both the news organization and its consumers.

For the news organization itself, a wiki can serve as a tool for maintaining stores of information on given topics, from which reporters can refresh their knowledge or learn about a new beat. Instead of relying on a constant rehashing of the history of a given subject in articles, a wiki can maintain a persistent record and be updated with new information to maintain a consistent information source over time. By tying that in with tagged content, as Daniel suggests, such wiki pages can be useful tools for research and exploration in addition to purely documentary purposes.

Similar arguments can be extended to the news consumers as well. Instead of relying on search functionality to find out more history or related information about the contents of an article or an arbitrary subject, a consumer can look at the comprehensive wiki. I can’t count how many times I have gone to Wikipedia to look up information on all sorts of random topics. Having a wiki run and/or produced by a news organization allows for it to be more in-depth –and potentially more credible– than a general-purpose wiki like Wikipedia.

I’m not sure it necessarily makes sense to allow such news wikis to be editable by anyone and everyone, but the news organization does not have to be the sole provider of authors either. Daniel’s example of allowing a student government to maintain its own wiki entry is a good example of a case where a news organization could allow an outside individual or group to maintain a page about themselves or a given subject. This may not be exclusive authorship rights, as the news organization may want to retain the ability to add new and edit existing content provided by such outside sources, but select partnerships would prove beneficial for everyone (news org, outside source, and consumers).

I would be surprised if many news organizations do not already have some internal database of sorts, and I think there is a lot of value in opening them up and establishing news wikis. Doing so provides another reason for consumers to visit their websites and stick around, thereby increasing traffic and potential revenue numbers. There’s much to gain, and very little to lose. Is there anything blocking the way except institutional (and possibly technical) inertia?

I’d like to take some steps down this path with Courant down the road once some other more essential components are taken care of, and I’d like to see others begin experimenting with such ideas on whatever technical platform they know how to work with.

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