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.

3 Responses to News Wikis
  1. Daniel

    Great post, Max. Our new link blog for CoPress is mostly going to consist of your writing, for better or for worse 🙂

    To clarify on who would have rights to edit the wiki, I think everyone could make contributions if they aren’t anonymous (authentication with Facebook Connect or the school’s email address system). Off the top of my head, new contributors would possible have to have several edits approved before they had the ability to change the live site. Controversial subjects, of course, would be limited to a few key players.

    At the moment, I’m just thinking of the text associated with the wiki. I haven’t fully fleshed out how the wiki concept could be applied to lists of related articles, the best tweets, etc., but I’m sure the ethos could apply.

  2. Daniel

    Part two: let me know when you start working on this. I’ve got more then enough ideas for you to work with…

  3. Can Duruk

    We’ve been thinking implementing some sort of Wiki here at The Tartan with Marshall. Our reasons have been really technical; we wanted to make sure that all the technical stuff (network organization, computer maintenance protocols and) is documented neatly. My main motivation was to remove the human element out of the picture.

    However, you bring up interesting points.

    I honestly don’t think a news organization necessarily needs to keep a wiki related to news. It’d be too painstaking to maintain and honestly, in the age of Google, it’s kind of limited utility. Unless information in the wiki is unique and somewhat useful, which as I said requires a lot of work, not many people are going to use it.

    One thing wiki could be useful in terms of editorial content is keeping things such as Copy manuals online. It would be really cool for example copy editors could access the wiki online while they are copy editing to refer back to it.

    You could maybe use a rather public wiki for things such as people and organizations mentioned in the articles. I think CrunchBase from TechCrunch is a good example of that. It keeps track of all the relevant information about the companies and people they cover and it’s easily accessible. That is more of a database than a wiki.

    I guess what I’m saying is you need to identify the type of content you will “wikify” or put into a easily accessible database and have guidelines to update it. Otherwise, just having a “wiki’ for the sake of having it may not be very productive.

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