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June 20, 2005
Wikitorial Post Mortem
The LA Times's 'wikitorial' experiment lasted but a few short hours. It was launched Friday morning (LA Times Wikitorial Experiment Begins). Was quite active for about two days (LA Times Wikitorials - One Day Later). And then was shut down abruptly on Sunday morning (LA Times Wikitorial Has Left the Building (For Now)).
Editor and Publisher runs an AP wirestory on the debacle ('L.A Times' Explains End of its 'Wiki'). ZDNET News cites a couple of letters to the editor (L.A. Times Sshuts Reader-Editorial). The NY Times weighs in (Postings of Obscene Photos End Free-Form Editorial Experiment). And, finally, the LA Times itself ('Wikitorial' Pulled After Vandalism).
All of these articles talk about why the 'wikitorial' was shut down: a profusion of pornographic images. In particular. goatse.cx.
But none of these articles bother to address whether the experiment was working up to the point of the vandalism. Sure the wikitorial was forked into a pro and con side, but were either of them any good? The LA Times introduced its wikitorial with an editorial (A Wiki for Your Thoughts).
Do you see fatuous reasoning, a selective reading of the facts, a lack of poetry? Well, what are you going to do about it? You could send us an e-mail (or even write us a letter, if you can find a stamp). But today you have a new option: Rewrite the editorial yourself, using a Web page known as a "wiki," at latimes.com/wiki.
Here are a few questions: were any of the revisions less fatuous? Was there less selective reading of facts or more? Were the revisions sufficiently poetic? (I don't think that changing the title from War and Consequences
to Dreams About War and Consequences
is particularly poetic, but it certainly is fatuous.)
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.
Jeff Jarvis provides a much better post mortem than the traditional press has: 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.
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.
UPDATE 2 1020PT
The Observer Blog from the Guardian has a good summation (Wikitorials. Must Have Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time):
The LA Times probably thought it was inviting the internet to join it on the anti-establishment barricades. In fact it was throwing open the doors to the Winter Palace. That the mob went on the rampage is not all that surprising.
UPDATE 3 1610PT
A commentor claims to be behind the vandalism: Son of Goatse.
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