Los Angeles Times launches editorial wiki

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Los Angeles Times has launched a web site where readers can collaboratively edit and respond to certain editorials from the paper. The site, called Wikitorial, uses a type of software known as a wiki. Registered users over 13 years of age may edit and contribute to designated "Wikitorials". On Friday, the Times posted the site's first editorial on latimes.com, entitled "War and Consequences". The corresponding Wikitorial is named "Dreams About War and Retribution".

In its introduction to Wikitorial, a Los Angeles Times editor invited readers to "rewrite the editorial yourself" if they thought something could be improved. The unsigned introduction to Wikitorial drew parallels with Wikipedia, which was said to work "bewilderingly well". The Times hopes that its self-admitted experiment will help a wider range of people express their opinions on editorial topics. The newspaper has acknowledged that the idea may not work, saying "Plenty of skeptics are predicting embarrassment; like an arthritic old lady who takes to the dance floor, they say, the Los Angeles Times is more likely to break a hip than to be hip."

"War and Consequences", a traditional editorial, serves as a starting point for wiki users. The opinion piece calls for clearer goals in the United States' current military involvement in Iraq. The author proposes a clear timetable for training Iraqi troops and police officers, and states that people need to be held responsible for intelligence failures leading up to the war, and failures to provide sufficient troops during and after the war.

The corresponding wikitorial, named "Dreams About War and Retribution", initially started as an exact copy of "War and Consequences" when it was posted on June 17. Since then it has been edited over 150 times. The original editorial confined itself to points supporting two basic claims: The need for a timetable, and the need for responsibility. In contrast, the wikitorial has increased the original scope considerably, weighing in on topics such as the Downing Street memo and drawing analogies to the Philippine-American War. One contributor even accused the American media, including the L.A. Times itself, of dereliction due to their uncritical coverage of the U.S. administration shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

As of mid day today, June 19th, the LATWiki Main Page has been replaced with the text "Where is the wikitorial? Unfortunately, we have had to remove this feature, at least temporarily, because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material. Thanks and apologies to the thousands of people who logged on in the right spirit. " There is speculation that this could be due to the Slashdot effect as it was recently Posted on Slashdot and that the LA Times was not prepared for the editing wars which quickly ensued.