The past decade has seen a gradual evolution in the field of alternative online news sites. Generally spurred on by mainstream news operators' lack of understanding of, or interest in, the possibilities of online news publishing, many independent sites have sprung up: these include, for example, the edited collaborative news Website Slashdot in the technology field as well as the more open-access sites Kuro5hin and Plastic (which were inspired in good part by the Slashdot model); further, we have also witnessed the rapid growth of the Independent Media Center network from its beginnings on the sidelines of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999, as well as similar 'citizen journalist' efforts such as the South Korean OhmyNews phenomenon (which is credited with tipping the balance in that country's recent presidential election).
In addition to these inherently collaborative, multi-authored sites which employ a variety of strategies for editorial oversight, ranging from the almost complete openness of Indymedia to Slashdot's continuing editorial supervision, a more diffused network of individual news commentators and pundits has also emerged throughout the blogosphere. Here, a great many Weblogs now regularly engage in the discussion and analysis of news events and news reports which they have found elsewhere - a practice I have called 'gatewatching' elsewhere (Bruns, 2005). Gatewatching also extends to the mutual monitoring and commentary of bloggers by bloggers, so that, while largely they do remain single-authored, these news-related blogs nonetheless form a loose network through their RSS and TrackBack mechanisms and news aggregation services. This continuous intercast of blog entries therefore leads to the emergence of a kind of peer-to-peer newssharing system, extending throughout the blogosphere (Bruns, 2004).
Collaborative news Websites and the intercast of news-related blogs are no longer the only models for multi-user alternative news coverage, however. During the second half of 2004, these projects were joined by a new site, which aims to translate the successful formula of the openly edited Wikipedia online encyclopedia to the realm of news publishing: Wikinews. This project, too, aims at encouraging participation by citizen journalists with the aim of providing quality, reliable, multiperspectival reports on the news, but does so not through traditional content management systems of blogging tools, but by utilising wiki technology. Already, in addition to its original English-language version, it has spawned localised versions in German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Swedish and Bulgarian.
With the date of the AoIR conference coinciding roughly with the first public announcements about the Wikinews project in October 2004, this paper will examine the first year of the project, therefore. It will evaluate the successes and failures experienced in this first year, and draw parallels and point out distinctions from the news coverage and collaborative publishing philosophies in other alternative news Websites. Common to many other sites is the focus on a specific audience (as in Indymedia) or field (as in Slashdot) of news - can the generalist approach of Wikinews be successful? In an environment when many other news Websites have given up any pretensions of objectivity, instead providing partisan reports that cater to their own constituencies, can the Wikipedia doctrine of maintaining a 'neutral point of view' (NPOV) work? And how does the unresourced Wikinews compete with the coverage of commercial news organisations? This timely paper will address these questions as well as those which are yet to emerge in the coming months, as Wikinews evolves. In doing so, it will be able to provide first answers to the question of whether this model is the first in a new generation of news Websites, or an evolutionary dead end.
Bruns, Axel. Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
Bruns, Axel. "Ubiquitous Online News: Content Syndication and the Semantic Web." Paper presented at Association of Internet Researchers conference in Brighton, 19-22 Sep. 2004.
Dr Axel Bruns teaches and conducts research about online publishing, electronic creative writing, online communities and popular music in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), and a founding editor of the online academic publications M/C - Media and Culture and dotlit: The Online Journal of Creative Writing.
He is currently preparing Uses of Blogs (with Joanne Jacobs), an edited collection of scholarly work examining the range of current approaches to blogging (forthcoming from Peter Lang in 2006). More information about this book and other research projects and publications can be found in his blog at snurb.info.