The Wiki-fication of News: Topic Pages and collaboration

The concept of topic pages, living stories and the wiki-fication of news has been discussed for a few years now in journalism circles. However, now we’re starting to see this movement gain pace with not only examples on major news sites like the New York Times and the Spokesman-Review, a very pioneering local newspaper in Spokane Washington in the US, but also in a new breed of digital journalism start-ups.

For instance, Honolulu Hawaii-based Civil Beat (formerly Peer News), a start-up with support from the Omidyar? Foundation (of Pierre Omidyar founder of online auction site eBay)?, has recently launched with a focus five specific news beats: Hawaii, Honolulu, Education, Land and Money?. Omidyar wants to use the site to create a new kind of civic square for the 21st Century, and one of the features of the site is topic pages. For instance, they have in-depth pages on Honolulu Planning, Hawaii Student Achievement and Hawaii State Government Deficit. These topic pages are explainers that I would assume grow over time with new information. It’s not clear because much of the content is behind a paywall.

The paywall, or ‘membership’ model gives members full access to the site for $19.99 a month. I use the quotes, not necessarily to sneer, but because most people will see membership as a subscription. I suspect that the branding of it as membership is meant to highlight the community and engagement aspirations of the site. The journalists are referred to as reporter-hosts.

I might pay for a 15-day pass to explore the site a little further, but I do notice that the site has a lot of internal links but not many external links, at least from the content that isn’t behind the paywall. That might because of the very local nature of the content, it might be a strategic editorial choice or it might be the lack of internet proficiency by the reporter-hosts. It definitely is an interesting experiment, and it’s one that I will be watching closely.

Another context and community led experiment, Toronto-based OpenFile launched this week:

Structurally and editorially, the site is centered, as its name suggests, around files: topic pages-meet-news articles, focused on a particular problem or issue, that combine text, photos, video, and links — “sort of a multimedia package,” Craig Silverman (digital journalism director)? says.?

OpenFile has six core principles: Local first, always collaborate, keep tools handy, stay open, be useful and curate the conversation. They are good principles, and as Megan Garber says at Harvard’s Nieman Lab, it will be fascinating to see new media journalism maxims finally put into practice and tested. One thing that is very interesting is how editorially led this project is. The technology doesn’t appear ground breaking, although the design is pleasant and clean, but the editorial thinking is very forward looking. The key thing will be to see how this is put into practice. Not everyone take to this type of reporter-host, journalism as curation mentality natively. It isn’t something that most journalists were trained to do, and engagement is a difficult skill to train. The write up at the Nieman Lab is very comprehensive, well worth reading the full article.

Last week, I was at the European Alliance of News Agencies conference in Budapest, speaking about blogging and social media journalism. With news agencies suffering because their primary customers, newspapers, are suffering, many of the conversations had some element of revenue streams or new business models. It’s very interesting to see with OpenFile that they will be geo-tagging all of their content, something that I’ve advocated for a few years. Why would they make the effort? Wilf Dinnick, founding editor and CEO of OpenFile says:?

Because all our stories are geotagged, and we’re still focusing on local news, we will be able to deliver the major brands the opportunity to deliver advertising to very local levels?

Geo-tagging is available in many open-source content-management systems. With geo-tagging built into many camera phones and increasingly easy in digital cameras, it is now easier than ever to geo-tag content. It takes some thinking up front, but it’s a wise investment for the long term.


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