The future of what folks in the newspaper business like to call "content" and how it is consumed and disseminated is rapidly changing. Many newspaper readers find blogs and new endeavors like the Chicago Daily News, an online newspaper founded by a former Chicago Tribune reporter that will allow readers to help craft the daily report, refreshing.
Reader input and advice is wonderful. Reader dictated content worries me. The recent troubles with Wikipedia exemplify my worries. While not a newspaper it does provide content. An entry in the online encyclopedia, which is maintained by volunteers and can be edited by users, accused the former editor of the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tenn. of being involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The entry on John Seigenthaler Sr. was a prank. The prank was traced back to Brian Chase in Nashville who has since resigned from his job and apologized.
Seigenthaler does not plan to take any legal action. What if he did? Would Chase be held responsible or Wikipedia? Will this episode prove to erode trust in Wikipedia and other sites where users provide content? Or will the bottomless Web swallow the Seigenthaler prank?
Newspapers have seen the success of Wikipedia and tried to translate its reader-added content to Web pages. It has not worked well. The most notable debacle was at the Los Angeles Times. The editorial page put up a Wikitorial, where readers could change an editorial. It did not take long for the editors to lose control of the project. It was taken down after people started to post pornography.
As journalists we have to make difficult decisions about what makes it in the newspaper. Having the day-in day-out experience of translating information into thoughtful content is important. Too important to let somebody tamper with from his or her living room. Just ask Seigenthaler.
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