LA Times Wikitorial Makes a Hasty Departure

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As newspapers experiment with blogs and podcasts, it must have seemed like a good idea to the editors of the Los Angeles Times to see if another element of the social software suite could be put to good use.

The notion of a wiki for newspapers isn’t new; after all, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has been giving it a go with Wikinews. But the Times didn’t offer up a citizen journalism effort. Instead, they gave readers the opportunity to collaborate on editorials.

Dubbed the Wikitorial, the idea attracted some skeptical attention. Most wondered how editorials-opinions by nature-could be handed over to community control without inviting those with deep-set feelings to battle over control. Evidently, that’s exactly what happened. Within just a couple short days of launching the experiment, the Times has pulled it down, leaving only this in its place:

Where is the wikitorial?

Unfortunately, we have had to remove this feature, at least temporarily, because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material.

Thanks and apologies to the thousands of people who logged on in the right spirit.

I looked at the Wikitorial launch page, while it was still available, only yesterday, and even then had trouble detecting what the editors thought the “right spirit” was. There’s no telling for sure what caused the Times to withdraw the page. It was Slashdotted, for one thing, but I suspect it had more to do with idealogues on both sides of an issue one-upping each other in less-than-subtle ways. The first editorial open on the wiki, near as I can figure out, was about the US presence in Iraq. I can just imagine how people polarized on the issue used the wiki as a battle ground. It’s not unusual. Even Wikipedia is subject to such nonsense.

Recently, somebody with an agenda tried to rewrite history by removing Dave Winer’s name from the entry on the development of podcasting. This kind of thing is to be expected, and the Wikipedia community generally acts to correct such partisan editing. Besides, as Jon Udell notes,

“Some knowledge is purely factual, but much is socially constructed and therefore inevitably prone to bias and dispute. Wikipedia’s greatest innovation is arguably the framework it provides to mediate the social construction of knowledge, advocate for neutrality, accommodate dispute, and offer a path to its negotiated resolution.”

But how could anybody expect anything but partisanship in a wiki based on newspaper editorials?

Ross Mayfield of SocialText thought the notion could have worked with branching pages so each side of an issue could rewrite their own version of the editorial, but I doubt it would have worked. Invariably, one side would want to deface the other side’s arguments. In the end, editorials just don’t seem like a great category for a public wiki.

So much has been made of the Times wiki that it’ll be particularly interesting to see if it returns in some form or another. I’ll have an update if it does.

Reader Comments…

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

LA Times Wikitorial Makes a Hasty Departure
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