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Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 9 months ago

Strengths of wiki journalism


Wikis allow news operations to effectively cover issues on which there is a range of information so broad that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to summarise effectively in one article, or by one journalist, alone. Examples might include local transport problems, experiences of a large event such as a music festival or protest march, guides to local restaurants or shops, or advice.


Jay Rosen, talking about his crowdsourcing citizen journalism experiment Assignment Zero (2006), explains it as follows:

"A professional newsroom can't easily do this kind of reporting; it's a closed system. Because only the employees operate in it, there can be reliable controls. That's the system's strength. The weakness is the organization knows only what its own people know. Which wasn't much of a weakness until the Internet made it possible for the people formerly known as the audience to realize their informational strengths."


Organisations willing to open up wikis for their audience to define the news agenda may also find a way of identifying their communities’ concerns: Wikipedia, for instance, notes Eva Dominguez (2006) "reflects which knowledge is most shared, given that both the content and the proposals for entries are made by the users themselves."


Internally, wikis also allow news operations to coordinate and manage a complex story which involves a number of contributors: journalists are able to collaborate by editing a single webpage that all have access to. 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. There is also, in theory, the possibility that readers may translate articles into other languages, as already takes place with Wikipedia entries, providing a way to make content accessible to normally hard-to-reach communities.


There are also clear economic and competitive advantages to allowing users to create articles. With the growth of low-cost micro-publishing facilitated by the internet and blogging software in particular, and the convergence-fuelled entry into the online news market by both broadcasters and publishers, news organisations face increased competition from all sides. At the same time, print and broadcast advertising revenue is falling while competition for online advertising revenue is fierce and concentrated on a few major players (Rayport, 2007) .


Lincoln Millstein, Senior Vice President of Digital Media at the Hearst Corporation makes this point quite explicitly:

"Newspapers should harness the power of communities—rather than wire service copy—to help fill pages. Half of the newspaper’s service-oriented content can be done by users in an engaging way that can enrich the audience. Such a model would free precious resources to do the craft of journalism and create content that sets newspapers apart from other media. You don’t need journalists to put out a travel or food section. Users are better served by having user-generated content. Use the journalists to do highly differentiated journalism." (Liu, 2007)

Wikis offer a way for news websites to increase their reach, while also increasing the time that users spend on their website (Francisco, 2006), a key factor in attracting advertisers: user generated content has proved hugely successful in attracting readers, accounting for 60% of pageviews on some websites (Liu, email correspondence, 2007). When successful, a wiki can engender community (Gillmor, 2004; Bowman and Willis, 2003). And a useful side-effect of community for a news organisation is reader loyalty.


Ken Liu puts it in more commercial terms: "It’s perhaps more about highly leveraged content generator and traffic booster, of features content that arguably is more interesting than news. For example, wikis on Man U and gardening and cricket will draw more interest than more news." (Email correspondence, 2007).


Andrew Lih notes how wikis function primarily as social software, acting to foster communication and collaboration with other users:

"By emphasising social interaction over technological solutions, the project harnesses the creative energies of the participants, rather than forcing them to work in any strict or prescribed process … This human orientation promotes personal engagement and investment in the community, building stronger bonds and imbuing a sense of belonging. By not being constricted by process or content management structure, users are empowered by the software system and not victims of it. Users become stakeholders in the content and in the outcome of their articles." (2004b: 15-16)


Economically, wikis appear to offer the attractions of free "user generated" content, and, in the case of published articles, free subediting. But these attractions are misleading: the disadvantages of the form mean costs elsewhere, in maintenance and monitoring. Talking about wiki operations in general, Andrew Frank, a research director at technology consulting firm the Gartner Group, is quoted as suggesting "The assertion that these sites are cheap to run is questionable. For example, to sell a substantial amount of advertising, wiki sites might have to filter for objectionable content" (Levine, 2006). Howe (2007) also argues "Attempting to use crowdsourcing simply as a cost-saving measure [doesn’t work]. Communities must be cultivated, respected and deftly managed if they are to come together to create economic value. This takes talented staff, and a set of skills not taught in journalism or business schools."


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