Fascinating new experiment in news delivery

Wired reports on a fascinating new experiment in news delivery:

After doing much in recent years to revolutionize the way an encyclopedia can be built and maintained, the team behind Wikipedia is attempting to apply its collaborative information-gathering model to journalism.Through a new effort, Wikinews, members of the open-source community who write and edit Wikipedia’s encyclopedia entries are encouraged to test their skills as journalists. The news site follows a similar set of rules as the encyclopedia, which allows anyone to edit and post corrections to entries, so long as each change is recorded.

Interestingly unlike other citizen journalist experiments such as Indymedia Wikinews is adopting a policy that mirrors traditional journalistic commitment to objectivity. There project group voted “to collaboratively report and summarize news on all subjects from a neutral point of view.”The mechanisms by which this might be accomplished are in effect a new (and quite different) version of Gaye Tuchman’s famous “strategic ritual” of objectivity. It is one based around negotiated collaboration (compromise?) and peer review rather than through creating a series of source/journalist opinion buffers:

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales believes the process of collaborative editing has allowed Wikipedia — which contains more than 1 million entries in more than 75 languages — to maintain a neutral tone on a wide variety of controversial topics. He expects the same process to prevent bias in Wikinews coverage.”The incentive for behavior in a wiki is to write in such a way that your writing can survive,” he said. “The only way it can survive is if your writing is acceptable to an extremely wide audience.”

Alex Halavais makes some interesting comments in the Wired report:

Halavais believes Wikinews’ collaborative editing process will help foster a neutral tone in the content of its stories. However, he thinks writers’ biases will affect the selection of articles contributed, in much the same way that profit motives impact what mainstream media outlets cover.”One of the things mainstream media does, for better or for worse, is report on news they expect will drive sales,” he said. “This means ignoring foreign news, for example, in many cases, because a local audience is not as interested. Since there is not the same economic incentive, the question is what the agenda of Wikinews will look like. I suspect it will reflect the interests and lives of its citizen reporters.”

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