L.A. Times Suspends 'Wikitorials'
By GARY GENTILE
Jun 20, 9:28 PM (ET)
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A bold Los Angeles Times experiment in letting
readers rewrite the paper's editorials lasted all of three days.
The newspaper suspended its "Wikitorial" Web feature after some users
flooded the site over the weekend with foul language and pornographic
The paper had posted on its Web site Friday an editorial urging a
better-defined plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. Readers were
invited to add their thoughts. Dozens did, with some adding
hyperlinks and others adding opposing views.
One reader split the long editorial in two, something that pleased
Michael Kinsley, the Times' editorial and opinion editor.
But the number of "inappropriate" posts soon began to overwhelm the
editors' ability to monitor the site. On Sunday, editors decided to
remove the feature.
"Wikis," based on the Hawaiian word "wiki wiki" for "quick," are
online communities that encourage users to collectively write and
edit articles, and even override and delete other contributors' work.
The end product can be thought of as a community's shared knowledge.
There are Wiki cookbooks, collections of quotations and an encyclopedia.
The newspaper's Web page was to show the original editorial and
interim versions along with the readers' final product.
"The result is a constantly evolving collaboration among readers in a
communal search for truth," the paper said in its Friday edition. "Or
that's the theory."
The Times said it might be creating a new form of opinion journalism
- or an embarrassing failure.
In a statement Monday, the Times said the feature would stay offline
indefinitely while it looked at what happened and how to fix it.
"We thank the thousands of people who logged onto the Wikitorial in
the right spirit," the paper said.
"I applaud them for trying a bold experiment," said Steve Outing,
senior editor with the journalism think tank Poynter Institute. "That
being said, I'm not at all surprised (by the problems). Wikis are
pretty new, and we don't entirely understand them and know how they
are going to work out yet."
He said Wikis "are most suited for factual information where the
content can become accurate because of the power of the intelligence
of the group."
"Trying to do that with an opinion piece doesn't seem to make a whole
lot of sense," Outing said. "People with competing views would just
try to get their particular viewpoint published and someone would go
in and change it."
In fact, it's one of the chief challenges facing the best-known Wiki,
Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia where any visitor can add, change
and erase someone else's entry.
Some contributors have attempted to impose their personal viewpoints
- for instance, by replacing an article on abortion with the word
"murder" written 143 times.
The Wikitorial is one of several changes to the paper's editorial
page being made under the leadership of Kinsley, the political
commentator and columnist who founded the online magazine Slate in
1996 and took over the Times' opinion pages a year ago.
A feature called "Thinking Out Loud" debuted last Thursday. The
entire page was devoted to short items from each member of the
paper's editorial board on the topic of traffic. There was no central
conclusion. The Times described the section as "an experiment in
making up our minds in public."
The Times is also allowing editorial board members to dissent from
editorials they disagree with and criticize editorials from other
Board members will also be writing bylined articles reflecting on
life in Southern California under the title "A SoCal Life."
AP Internet writer Anick Jesdanun in New York contributed to this
On the Net: http://www.latimes.com/wiki