Wiki Journalism

Wiki Journalism

Joseph E. Burns (Southeastern Louisiana University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch034
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Wiki journalism is a format of participatory journalism in which citizens are encouraged to add to, or modify, a wiki-based news story. Although the process is relatively new and the mainstream media still seem wary to accept the concept, the public has begun to recognize the potential of wiki journalism as a form of reporting. Wiki journalism has claimed success in the primary coverage of large news stories (for example, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007) and in being the first source to provide images, sound, and first-hand accounts. The technology is already in place for citizenbased journalism to become a true new branch of media. However, critics of wiki journalism point out that this type of journalism is often based more on opinion than fact. Another concern is that when it comes to journalistic ethics and the law, participatory media do not function under the same set of rules as the traditional media. The author maintains that the future of wiki journalism depends on whether or not this novel news format can stand on its own.
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A “Wiki” is a website that allows visitors to modify the content of web pages in real time under a set of parameters set by the site’s moderator. A Wiki is both a website and a database for keeping track of all versions of the site as modified by the users. Depending on the parameters set up by the website moderator, the Wiki allows users the ability to add, delete, modify, or change in any way the content of the web page.

The Wiki was conceptualized and created in 1994 by Ward Cunningham (Richardson, 2005). The term “Wiki” came from a trip Cunningham took to Hawaii. Upon arriving at the Honolulu International Airport, Cunningham was told to take the WikiWiki shuttle. The name is Hawaiian vernacular for a fast shuttle. Cunningham liked the word and applied it to a database format that he was working on. Cunningham later suggested he used “WikiWiki” as a substitute for “Quick-Web,” the term he was applying to the database at the time (Cunningham, 2003).

The first Wiki, then termed the “WikiWikiWeb,” shortened later to “WikiWeb,” and then to just “Wiki,” was posted to the server on March 25, 1995. It was based on a Macintosh application HyperCard. The HyperCard idea of seeing computer programming as a series of index cards stacked upon one another, each able to be changed or altered individually without affecting the other, was integrated with the World Wide Web’s Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and created the Wiki format we generally know today (Cunningham, 2007). The format allowed for each “card” to be a new alteration to the web page and to the database kept by the server.

Wikis were first adopted by businesses as collaboration software to allow a large number of people to work on a single idea in real time. The Wiki allowed for a single space where people separated geographically could all give input into a single database on to a common format. What’s more, the basic idea of a Wiki is to create a database that could be altered, on the fly rather than having to get into the HTML code and re-render and repost. Furthermore, the Wiki format utilized the existing HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and there was no need to switch from a database format to a web display (Chawner & Lewis, 2006). At the time, that was revolutionary.

Depending on how the moderator of the Wiki sets the parameters, users can edit, add or subtract information, remain anonymous or have to login to use the system. Wiki even allows for searching of the system by what are known as “bots” to look for foul language or other known unwanted material. The main selling point of Wiki was that anyone with access could add to or edit what was on the screen on the fly. The method was faster than what was used before, and the display was equal to a web page (Blake, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Wikitorial: A wikitorial is an editorial in a Wiki space.

Citizen-Based Journalism or Cit-Jo: A term that covers a wide range of concepts where citizens have taken it upon themselves to cover and report a story through writing, photojournalism, video-journalism, blogging, or a combination of each.

“Jerk Swarm”: A term to describe an attack on a Wiki site by an overwhelming number of users who wish to post cyber-graffiti, cursing, and generally offensive material undercutting the purpose of the Wiki.

Crowdsourcing: In citizen-based journalism, crowdsourcing is a practice of asking citizens to cover a story and submit their reports, photos, and/or video for editing. The established news source then uses the submitted stories as source material to create a final story.

Libel: An intentional defamation in a fixed format, primarily the written word.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): A programming language used to format pages that are read and displayed by web browsers.

Wiki: A user-centered Internet format that allows those with access to add, subtract, or edit content. A Wiki site looks like a web page and edits as a word processing document.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS): A form of programming specifications maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that allows a single line of code to affect an entire website or web page.

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