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So far the most highly publicised experiments with the form (the ‘Wikitorial’; Wired’s wiki article; the Esquire Wikipedia article) have been of the ‘Second draft’ variety, relinquishing the least amount of control over content, and incorporating wiki technology into pre-existing work processes: the subject of the article is still chosen by editors, the first draft is written by a journalist, and only then does the wiki community take control, taking a role as a second journalist/editor in the process.


In these cases the article has also been ‘frozen’ at some point for publication, often only days after first being published online, something which could be seen as ‘unnatural’ for a wiki. Furthermore, freezing wikis reduces the opportunity to allow vandalism to be cleaned up over time (Cannon-Brookes, 2006), underexploits the ability to look at various ‘edits’ of an article/topic/event as it develops over a long period of time, and removes the opportunity to build an online community.


In terms of the Wood test of user participation - "would the news on a Website look fundamentally different if users did not participate in its information gathering processes?" (Bruns, 2005) the answer in these cases is "No."


In contrast, outside of traditional news operations, Wikinews and Wikipedia have adopted an ‘Open’ model, relinquishing almost all control, with huge success for Wikipedia, but less for Wikinews, perhaps because of the inclusion of 'short-shelf-life' material.


Timescale appears to be a key variable in the success of wiki journalism as, between these two types on the wiki journalism continuum, the most successful models of wiki journalism have involved subject matter with a long shelf life, that builds, and taps into, a community that is wiki-literate and willing to contribute.





This community, and the management of community, are crucial to the shape that wiki journalism takes. As Boczkowski (2004) points out: "at least two transformations appear to distinguish the production of new-media news from the typical case of print and broadcast media: The news seems to be shaped by greater and more varied groups of actors, and this places a premium on the practices that coordinate productive activities across these groups."


Furthermore, creating a community is difficult and, once created, that community may not act in ways the wiki owner wants them to:

"Real community is a self-creating thing, with some magic spark, easy to recognize after the fact but impossible to produce on demand, that draws people together. Once those people have formed a community, however, they will act in the interests of the community, even if those aren't your interests. You need to be prepared for this. [T]hey may well treat you, the owner of the site, as an external perturbation. Another surprise is that they will treat growth as a perturbation as well, and they will spontaneously erect barriers to that growth if they feel threatened by it.[...] Many of the expectations you make about the size, composition, and behavior of audiences when you are in a broadcast mode are actually damaging to community growth. To create an environment conducive to real community, you will have to operate more like a gardener than an architect." (Shirky, 2002)


But investment made in building this community can produce significant results. Scott B. Anderson, director of shared content for the Tribune Co.'s interactive unit, says "This is a way that a newspaper can let its audience take part in its core mission: investigation" (Dorroh, 2005), and there are increasing examples of 'crowdsourcing' methods, of which wikis are just one, being used to build journalism projects that would otherwise not have taken place. When Gannett's Florida News-Press, for example, decided to ask for help from its readers in investigating a utility charge story, "readers spontaneously organized their own investigations: Retired engineers analyzed blueprints, accountants pored over balance sheets, and an inside whistle-blower leaked documents showing evidence of bid-rigging" (Howe, 2006a). But equally notably, the readership became hugely engaged in a story which traditionally would not have drawn as large an audience (the website received more hits than for any other stories excepting hurricanes).


This inevitably raises issues of access, and the proportion and type of user who will contribute to a wiki. Nielsen's research on participation inequality (2006) found a '90-9-1' rule whereby 90% of users are "lurkers" who do not contribute, 9% "contribute a little", and 1% account for "almost all the action", while McCawley (2007) notes: "there were more major contributors to the 1911 Britannica than there are to Wikipedia and the front page of Digg is controlled by fewer people than the front page of the New York Times."


Although Bruns proposes that participatory journalism marks a fundamental change to the processes of information gathering, he notes that

"there is no automatism at work here which will inevitably lead to the emergence of multiperspectival news [...] such coverage depends not only on the fact that users do participate, but also on the question of which users take part - in other words, multiperspectivality depends on the condition that participating users do indeed represent a multitude of perspectives. When this condition is not met, participatory journalism might in fact lead to a limiting of available perspectives." (2005: 27)


But Bruns also argues that "In itself this does not undermine the project of open news any more than the fact that not everyone is a software programmer undermines the project of open source: even those who do not engage with the deliberations taking place within open news can still benefit from their outcomes as they emerge." (2005, p74), while Pavlik asks: "Is the knowledge gap reason enough to resist the development and growth of online journalism? Definitely not. Although some segments of society are likely to benefit more rapidly than others, all groups will eventually gain. Moreover, even the classical media are subject to the same knowledge-gap effect [and] if anything, new media present a possible reversal of the knowledge gap by eliminating the barriers to entry into the journalism marketplace." (2001: 144)


It could also be argued that the '90% lurkers' statistic is misleading, focused as it is on any one site, where most people are going to be 'passing through'. In contrast, when the focus moves to individual people, the figures change dramatically: a Pew study in 2003 found that 44% of adult American internet users had contributed content online (Lih, 2004a). Even with 10% of users contributing, the case can be made that a local newspaper with 40,000 print readers would not have previously expected to tap into an army of around 4,000 contributors.


Even so, the skills to manage a community and give a 'voice to the voiceless' become important, and to that end an increasing number of news organisations are creating 'Community Editor' roles (Bradshaw, 2006). The case of the BBC's 'user generated content' unit is worth noting here: the team of over two dozen staff not only manages incoming contributions, but also looks to balance proactive voices by physically seeking out others who may not have access to communication technologies. 



Wikis: the new blogs?


Francisco (2006) argues that it is only a matter of time before more professional publishers and producers begin to experiment with using wikis in the same way as they have picked up on blogs. But there are clear cultural barriers to its adoption (Dorroh, 2005). Bruns notes the tendency of professional journalism to regard audiences as lacking the skills to make sense of the news, a tendency which leads journalists to engage in a public journalism which is "'journalism in public view' rather than 'journalism with broad public participation'." (2005: 72), while Surowiecki provides examples of the cultural resistance to "the idea that a crowd of people could know anything at all":

"Henry David Thoreau lamented: 'The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.' Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, 'Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups,' while the historian Thomas Carlyle put it succinctly: 'I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance'." (2004, xv-xvi)


Surowiecki provides copious examples that, given sufficient diversity and independence, the knowledge of a crowd can outperform highly paid experts, and it might be argued that his book, The Wisdom of Crowds (2004), and its success, is a symptom of a wider cultural change in favour of group knowledge.


A further cultural change is the move within the news industry from an industrial, Fordist product, to one that is interactive and customisable - a postmodern product "in the same way that postmodern products frequently consist of a common central core which can be modified and individualised" (Bruns, 2005: 218) - a description which could easily be applied to wikis. This move from a product-based industry to a service-based industry is central to the changing cultural conceptions of news and its audiences, and essential for any genuine embracing of wiki journalism.


At the same time cultural opposition to the use of wikis in journalism is likely to be eroded by the use of wikis within the business world. The Gartner Group predicts that half of all companies will use them internally in some fashion by 2009 (Levine, 2006), and The Telegraph’s Web News Editor, Shane Richmond, agrees: "Unusually, it may be business people who bring wikis into the mainstream. That will prepare the ground for media experiments with wikis [and] I think it's a safe bet that a British media company will try a wiki before the end of the year." (2007b) 


Richmond added that The Telegraph were planning an internal wiki as a precursor to public experiments with the technology. "Once we have a feel for the technology, we will look into a public wiki, perhaps towards the end of the year." (Bradshaw, 2007)


The BBC has been using wikis internally for some time, particularly for product development and distributed team working within BBC Future Media & Technology, according to Robin Hamman, Senior Broadcast Journalist and Producer at the corporation, while a straw poll of senior media professionals shows enthusiasm about the potential of the technology in organisations including Channel 4, BSKYB, and FT.com (King, 2007).


Even of those opposed to, or unaware of, the use of wikis in journalism, Gahran (2007), notes that "Most [had] used, shared documents via services such as Google Docs or Zoho [...] Once they get used to the idea of collaborating on a document (any document, really) via the Web, wikis start to look more appealing and make more sense."



Blogs 2.0


This paper sought to fill a gap in the academic literature by providing an exploratory investigation of the use of wikis in journalism. As the taxonomy proposed above illustrates, 'wiki journalism' is too broad an area to be covered in effective depth in one paper alone, and it must be remembered that wikis are a platform which can contain journalism, not a form of journalism per se, which is why this paper has not posed the question "Are wikis journalism?"


Further studies are needed to look at individual forms of wiki journalism, in particular those which have only been briefly mentioned, such as internal wikis, and wiki journalism taking place outside of traditional news organisations. Longitudinal studies are needed to look at the development of wiki communities over time at sites like the AmpliPedia (as the CNET wiki illustrates, wiki communities often need long periods of time to build quality content). Other studies might investigate what makes users contribute to wikis, and how under-represented groups might be attracted.


A number of projects in 2007 indicate that we may be seeing a new stage in the evolution of wiki journalism. In terms of Rushkoff's (2003) three stages of development in the growth of participatory media - deconstruction of content, demystification of technology and finally do-it-yourself or participatory authorship - it could be suggested that some publications, in particular the San Diego Tribune AmpliPedia and Wired's How-To Wiki, are emerging from the first stage of deconstruction of content and that, if wiki journalism is to become part of the online journalist's toolbox, the next challenge is further demystification of wiki technology, with time and money invested in facilitating participation.


Wikis are blogs 2.0: like blogs, they provide an arena for readers to critique and correct, to self-publish, and to form communities. But while they share many characteristics with blogs and older technologies such as discussion forums, the significance of wikis lies in the way they move away from the linear call-response communication models that those technologies reflected. If blogs are a distributed discussion (Bowman and Willis, 2003), then wikis offer a single place for that discussion to reach (ongoing) concensus.


The range of voices editing each other tends to result in a fact-based piece of work that represents the ‘Neutral Point Of View’ (NPOV) formalised by Wikipedia, and which, potentially, avoids some of the biases inherent in individual, commercial journalism. The networked nature of wiki technology allows for genuine collaboration and community, as well as holding enormous potential for transparency and a more impartial concensus. Whether this potential is realised depends on the investment and understanding that is brought to any wiki project.


In other words, wiki journalism will only flourish if as much time and care is invested in wikis as are invested in traditional journalism. Weaknesses identified in this paper, such as vandalism and inaccuracy, can be addressed if staff are assigned to monitor and facilitate the wiki - to prevent legal issues, to attract A-List contributors (and monitors), and build genuine online communities. This will involve a new skills set for those involved, and it will involve a fresh look at copyright, legal and ethical issues. Hardest of all, it will involve relinquishing control over what has traditionally been a news organisation's biggest asset - content - in order to rebuild another that has recently been neglected: the community that may be key to journalism's future both editorially and economically.





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