I picked up a copy of the Valley Advocate (that’s the Pioneer, or Connecticut River, Valley in Massachusetts) the other day (something I do maybe three times a year), and noticed the front page headline: “Who’s a WIKI: Help the Valley Advocate begin gathering data for the first Valley political wiki.” Holy cow, I thought, they’re starting a local wiki! They even express the hope that this will eventually be “a large and growing database of information about local people and issues in the news.” Issues! Large and growing! A localpedia that’s more than a directory of pizza joints and brew pubs!
No such luck, however. There’s a two-page spread inside, with short bios of a bunch of politicians, and an introduction to the effect that they’d like readers to “fill in the gaps.” So I go online and click on a pol I happen to know, Rep. John Olver. Can I edit what they’ve got? No. Can I add any information of my own? No. Can I do the wiki part of wikipedia? No. Well, actually, I can add a comment.
Sorry, Valley Advocate, that’s not a local wiki. You want a local wiki? Use the open source software you can get from MediaWiki, or something similar, have every reporter, stringer and editor start contributing content, and open the gates to the public to add and edit. But, you were right about “local people and issues in the news”—the right way to build a localpedia is to base it around people and current issues, not restaurants and historic landmarks. (See multiple previous posts on this.)
I’ll just have to keep looking for someone to kick this off right. Or do it myself.
Extra: Must-read of the day is “The Elite Newspaper of the Future” by Philip Meyer in AJR. He makes some excellent points about why the end-game is here and now for newspapers, and suggests they might survive in some way by focusing on the “leadership audience,” a narrow subset of the broad audience they’ve always aimed for. Here’s Meyer:
If they should peel back to some core function, newspapers would still have to worry about the Internet and its unbeatable capacity for narrowcasting. The newspapers that survive will probably do so with some kind of hybrid content: analysis, interpretation and investigative reporting in a print product that appears less than daily, combined with constant updating and reader interaction on the Web….But it won’t be a worthwhile possibility unless the news-paper endgame concentrates on retaining newspapers’ core of trust and responsibility. The mass audience is drifting away, and resources should be focused on the leadership audience. If existing newspapers don’t do it, new competitors will enter their markets and do it for them.
Indeed, they will.