Module JG410

Wiki Journalism

Module author

Corinne Smith

Concordia University

Learning objectives

After studying this course, you will be able to:

  • Define Wiki Journalism and explain this journalistic genre;
  • Explain how wiki journalism can be seen as a special type of citizen, collaborative, or interactive journalism;
  • Give an overview of the technological developments that led to Wiki Journalism;
  • Reflect this genre critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Wiki Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that wiki journalism is important zu know

When it comes to understanding what Wiki Journalism is, it's often important just to understand what a wiki is: a web application where content can added or changed through the collaboration of a host of different people. For the concept, it can best be described as journalistic crowdsourcing, whereby there is no one definitive source of information.

This type of citizen journalism seeks to put together as much information on a topic as possible. Given the presence of multiple people working together on a single story, the amount of potential information that can be compiled on it increases exponentially in comparison to the maximum output of a single writer.

This genre is the byproduct of budgets for many news organizations being reduced because of declining circulation or the drive by websites to increase their traffic. The need to cover news, but not having the manpower to do so can be addressed through Wiki Journalism. It can also help offer comparative views on a complex subject that help illuminate aspects that may be neglected, or even omitted, by one journalist. 

In some instances, the use of wiki's has become part of the learning process for journalism students. The thought behind it is to engender teamwork, while also helping to develop editing skills and editorial instincts.

The concept of Wiki Journalism began as Wikinews, an offshoot of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that was co-founded by Jimmy Wales. It was launched in November 2004, and after a decade has over 20,000 articles on its site.

In the ensuing years, newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, along with magazines like Esquire and Wired, experimented with the approach, but made no effort to adopt it along the likes of Wikinews.

One difference between this form of journalism and the standard format is that the main people behind the producers of Wiki Journalism are not bound by the constraints of an average journalist. Some stories can be created simply through extensive research on the part of collective group of people.

Such an approach works best when a story takes place in a number of different cities. Using individuals who are already based in those areas can help produce a more extensive journalistic piece in contrast to one that would require immense amounts of legwork on the part of a journalist.

While that facet of the genre is of the positive variety, there are downsides that result from more widely adopting such an approach. The biggest of these problems stems from determining how to establish credibility for the people who compile the information, and making sure that what they are writing about is accurate. The time it takes to develop such a standard is uncertain, which means that flaws which are not addressed immediately can cause havoc for an entity using such journalists.

Also, the point of view espoused by an individual can become an issue, especially with sensitive political topics that elicit passionate voices on both sides. Attempting to have a neutral voice that informs the general public can become difficult if some of the information has come from organizations or websites who aren't bound by the confines of journalistic integrity.

An even bigger danger in this area relates to vandalism, which relates in part to deliberately inaccurate information being posted as fact by someone with no interest in providing the proper information. Within this facet of the genre is the specter of a libelous remark being attributed to one of the subjects of an article. While it often remains difficult for plaintiffs in the United States to actually prove libel has taken place, the mere need for a site to have to defend itself for such behavior on the part of a Wiki journalist is a headache that could be avoided through a better screening process.

Such a screening process can be aided through a greater awareness of the problem. That can take the form of maintaining a lurking presence that will be able to immediately delete such erroneous information should it occur. Or, it can be done by setting up an identification clearance that will require a Wiki journalist to confirm his identity through the use of a password or other such method.

With media outlets, especially those that are newspaper-based, looking to cut costs in all areas, the evolution of this phenomenon will continue to be an important part of the discussion about journalism as a whole. The journalist of tomorrow will no doubt have to adapt what he has previously learned and merge it into what is the new reality. That means working with individuals you may never see on a face-to-face basis, but yet have to learn to trust. While there is danger in one of those people being a vandal, the possibility exists that their assistance may make your work that much better.