I started writing this post a while back, but with all the news about InfoWorld going completely electronic and print media further giving way to online, it seems like a good time to publish. According to an article published by journalism.co.uk, Jimmy Wales says newspapers and other mainstream media outlets can successfully use wikis to build and strengthen their reader communities, and provide a place for news beyond what’s normally covered. He says that, “take up of wikis by mainstream media is dependent on the cultivation of communities rather than concerns about vandalism.” He says the LA Times wikitorial experiment failed because it neglected to cultivate a community before allowing open editing of a newspaper editorial.
I think a similar thing happened with the Wired Wiki experiment last fall. Since Wired staff took a hands-off approach they weren’t there to set an example for the community and so most of the activity was self-serving - vendors writing paragraphs essentially advertising their products instead of writing about the wiki as a concept and focusing on its social and organizational impact.
Frankly, the reason some of these projects haven’t succeeded is because people have simply applied the traditional “rules of the game” to the new tools without taking time to understand how social media works. As a result, little or no investment is made in building community, setting the tone for participation, actively guiding the project. When something goes wrong, like what happened with the LA Times wikitorial, publications have reacted too quickly and prematurely shut off projects before they had time to be successful. I’d love to help the LA Times redo its wikitorial, but with more direct involvement from reporters to guide the community, and with a less charged topic than war.
Not all MSM outlets are doing poorly though - there are some examples where social tools are succeeding. USA Today took a big step toward integrating social media tools, The Washington Post is generally doing a good job in my opinion (with experiments like Blogroll), and David Pogue’s NYTimes blog Pogue’s Posts is a must read. I don’t know why it’s free and not part of the TimesSelect, where you pay to read other Times reporters’ opinions. That seems like a barrier to building community around those reporters - really, would you pay to comment on a blog?