Wiki cooties and the death of editorials

Wiki cooties and the death of editorials

: Well now the LA Times has given wikis cooties. The New York Times and other media outlets have covered the collapse of its wikitorial project and I’ve heard more than one old-media person say, well, I see LA tried wikis and it’s dangerous.

But no. This is like hearing Kathie Lee Gifford try to rap and then, upon hearing the results, declaring hip hop dead.

The LA Times didn’t understand what it was doing and made three criticial mistakes:

1. Collaboration vs. argument — I said this from the start: They didn’t get that wikis are a collaborative medium where, even when people disagree, they try to find common ground, knowing there can be only one outcome, or else the wiki will, by its very nature, fail. This is why I suggested having two wikis, instead — one pro, one con and let the best wiki win — and Jimbo Wales was starting to do that… but the trolls took over the forest first.

2. Care and feeding — All communities need attention. The Times should have gone to Jimbo and, he said today, he would have had a few good Wikipedians watch over their foray. You don’t build a town without cops. You don’t build a community site — a town online — without a clean-up crew, either. He also would have explained how to use wikis, since he knows. But the paper thought they knew best and this leads to be biggest mistake:

3. Newspaper ego — Here is the Times’ worst mistake and its most predictable: They think everything is about them. I’ve sat in meetings with newspaper editors who earnestly think that the best use of internet interactivity is to let the people talk about what they have written, to discuss them, to keep them in the spotlight they built for themselves. There is no bigger institutional ego than a newspaper’s. Presidents and popes get humbled more often than editors. Well, at least they used to.

No, guys, the best use of a wiki would have been to have the public create wikis to share their knowledge and viewpoints with you. I don’t know what the big issues are in LA, but here in New York, it might work better just to open the gates to watch people create pro and con wikis on the Olympics and a new Manhattan stadium and 10 ways to improve the schools….

But even that is an exhibition of media ego. For the truth is, if people wanted to do that, they could go to any number of places and do it on their own. They don’t need newspapers to give them technology. And they certainly do not need newspapers to tell them what to talk about.

If newspapers would just listen — and use this techology to do that — they’d find that the people don’t want to talk about what the editors talk about. And they certainly don’t want to talk about the editors.

Let’s take it up a notch:

What this really points toward is the death of the editorial page. Why the hell do we need editorials anymore? In their day, they were the voice — the bully pulpit, as Rupert Murdoch says — of one person: the publisher, the guy who had the ultimate conch, the printing press. We, the people, never said we gave a damn what he thought, but we had no choice but to listen. And so over the years, he convinced himself that we cared. What if we don’t?

The truth is that an editorial is just another blog post written by one person witih one viewpoint. Here’s a case where you can’t argue that it makes a difference having a journalism degree and a newsroom. Editorialists and columnists get to read the same stuff we do and they put on their pants and opinions just the way we do. So why should they have rights to the mountaintop? Who died and made them Moses? Let the people speak.

Look at this vision for a newspaper of the future and how opinions work from the blogger at Reasons Unbeknownst:

A successful newspaper of the future is going to have a bigger op-ed section filled with the latest, highest ranked opinions found on Maybe the entire paper version of the paper goes op-ed. Why print real news if itís just going to be outdated and lack animations and videos compared to the web? Internet aggregation on paper. Mmmm, just had a business idea.


And so, in the end, the newspaper becomes a wiki. And it’s not wikis that have cooties. It’s newspaper editorials.

: See also Ernie Miller:

Reporting that the wiki has been shut down is the easy part. Letting people know whether the experiment was otherwise successful is the hard part, and no one in the traditional press seems eager to confront it….

It is bad enough that many in the traditional media don’t understand how wikis can succeed – they can be exceedingly useful and productive. It’ll be worse if they don’t understand how wikis can fail.

: AND: Let me be clear: I hope the LA Times gets back on the bike and rides again. I salute them for the effort; the heart is in the right place. But I would hate to see one misstep cancel the race … for the LA Times and for other newspapers, all of whom need to learn how to listen.

: I didn’t see the LA Time story today on my first search. They say they might restart it:

But managers of the newspaper’s editorial and Internet operations, which have undergone a number of changes in recent months, said they might attempt to resurrect online editorials written collectively by readers.

“As long as we can hit a high standard and have no risk of vandalism, then it is worth having a try at it again,” said Rob Barrett, general manager of Los Angeles Times Interactive….

Although marred by some profanity by contributors, the experiment got off to a fairly high-minded start, said Michael Newman, deputy editor of the editorial page, who proposed the wikitorial idea.

Voluntarily overseeing part of the discussion was Wikipedia founder Jim Wales, who soon encouraged “forking” the editorial into two pieces ó one taking a pointed anti-war stance and the other arguing for the ongoing U.S. presence in Iraq.

After midnight Saturday, Newman said, he stopped monitoring the site for the night, and later the pornographic images began to pour in.

It appears that part of the problem is that an editor was monitoring the site and had to sleep. He needs help. At Advance, my last job, we put together a network of forum cops who responded to alerts from readers when something bad went up. Note two important elements: First, you have to give the readers the tools to report problems. Second, you have to make sure someone responds to the alarm. If you respond, this will work and the people will snitch for you; if you do not respond and they are calling a 911 line that never answers, then it will turn into — as this did — outtakes from Caligula.

: And here’s Joe Gandelman’s take.