[Foundation-l] Murdoch newspaper websites to go paywall -opportunity for citizen journalism!

Lars Aronsson lars at aronsson.se
Mon May 11 16:57:47 UTC 2009

Magnus Manske wrote:

> On Sun, May 10, 2009 at 11:07 PM, Steven Walling

> How about getting Amazon to offer free Wikinews subscriptions on 
> their Kindle Newspaper channel? They'd have something they can 
> offer "for free"

Wikinews being "free" (as in CC-BY) or "for free" doesn't matter, 
if the content is useless.

I need Wikipedia so I can check background information on that new 
politician, on the author of that new book, or to find out what 
H1N1 really stands for.  Already when Wikipedia contained just a 
few thousand stub articles, it was very useful.

But when is Wikinews going to become useful?  Ever?  If it were 
twice as useful now as it was last year, then we'd only have to 
wait a few more years.  But is this happening?  Its Alexa rank is 
13,400, far behind Wikipedia (7), Wiktionary (1049), Wikibooks 
(2370), Wikiquote (3330), and Wikisource (4600).  A rank of 13K 
would be impressive in a smaller language, but not in English. Who 
uses Wikinews and why?

Elections for the European Parliament are coming up on June 4-7. 
The election campaign is now big news around Europe.  This is a 
topic where Wikinews could be useful, if it had the ambition to 
cover the parties, the politicians, the speeches, the promises.

I went to en.wikinews.org and searched for European parliament. I 
found nothing about the election, only some old articles about 
events in the parliament, and these articles weren't even 
categorized as European Parliament, because there is no such 
category.  How can this be a useful source of news reports?

On Wikipedia, the [[European Parliament election, 2009]] article 
is already 51 kilobytes and has 16 interwiki links.  That is 


Wikinews was created as a spill-over from Wikipedia, since 
"Wikipedia is not..." a news reporting site.  This is not a good 
start for a project. The idea was that news reports should be free 
(as Wikipedia is free).  The problem is that newspaper websites 
are already openly available, free-of-charge if still under strict 
copyright, so what extra value does Wikinews bring?  The right to 
reuse the contents?  But who really needs to reuse yesterday's 
news reports?  Isn't that what the encyclopedia is for?

Wikipedia calls itself an encyclopedia, which is an all-round (as 
in "cycle") learning (as in paedia) resource, but Wikipedia never 
was as all-round as required of traditional encyclopedias.  
Wikipedia is fine anyway, because it "makes the web not suck".  
Most people don't go to Wikipedia to find information, they go to 
Google.  For some topics, Google will present a link to a 
Wikipedia article.  Each new article makes the web, as found on 
Google, suck a little less.

So, Wikinews should free itself from its role of being a 
spill-over from Wikipedia, and instead aim to make news reporting 
on the web not suck.  But in what way, exactly, does news 
reporting suck on the web?

This is a very current discussion, especially in the U.S., where 
newspapers are closing down or cutting journalists' salaries and 
Rupert Murdoch last week said the days of free newspaper websites 
are soon over.  Wall Street Journal's website hides behind a paid 
subscription, and other newspapers should follow, rather than 
offering news reports for free on open websites with ads. Such a 
change would make news reporting on the web suck, for sure.  But 
we don't know yet if it will happen. We can't rely on how 
newspapers will suck in the future, but have to build on the way 
they suck today.

One way that newspapers suck on the web, in my personal opinion, 
is the front pages of their websites.  They all look the same, 
trying to present some top headlines and links to departments for 
sports, business or literature.  I seldom read more than the 3-4 
top headlines.  If I click down into the literature department, 
only 1 or 2 stories are new, the others are from last week.  This 
is a very different experience from reading a printed newspaper 
with all its subsections, where everything is new from yesterday.

This is where Wikinews sucks even worse.  Its front page is far 
more boring than any commercial newspaper's website.  There are so 
many kinds of news that it fails to cover (such as the European 
Parliament election), that a daily visit to en.wikinews.org would 
be a complete waste of time.

Instead, I can go to news.google.com to search for news on a 
particular topic.  This is very useful, if I already know what I'm 
looking for.  But it's not very good for learning about breaking 

Another way that traditional news reporting sucks is that they 
often just present press releases and there is too little 
investigative journalism.  But having an investigative reporter 
work for months on a project is really expensive, either for her 
employer or for herself.  Shifting that work load to mass 
collaboration is exactly what Wikileaks does.  That website 
actually makes news reporting suck less.  Should Wikinews have a 
mission more like theirs?

A lot more thinking is needed here.  How does news reporting suck 
and how can Wikinews provide something better?

  Lars Aronsson (lars at aronsson.se)
  Aronsson Datateknik - http://aronsson.se

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