With no fanfare, the LA Times introduced, and then closed, a wiki designed to provide online readers with a way to respond to or edit LAT opinion pieces. Read about the launch, the obit and the post mortem, all on my About.com politics blog.

Yes, there were mistakes, not the least being the choice of a collaboration tool, which needs consensus to operate effectively, for a divisive topic: the war in Iraq. Not having a core community to monitor the discourse also proved fatal. But it was a brave effort, and I view this as a glass-half-full (not half-empty) exercise:

[W]hat is the advantage — to the paper, to its readers — of having a wiki “reply” to a newspaper editorial? If the paper is trying to provide a voice for its readers, perhaps it would be good to post every editorial as a blog entry. Use blogging technology to allow individual comments, creating an online version of the print “letters to the editor.”

Does this experiment mean that wikis and newspapering are like oil and water (see Jarvis)? Not necessarily. Most issues — whether they are “big” ones like Iraq or “small” ones like rezoning — have more that two sides. The media, however, almost always treat an issue like it’s a ball game. Wiki technology could provide a voice for those other, perhaps more nuanced, points of view.

Why would anyone participate in a mainstream media wiki or blog when they can easily (and cheaply) start their own? I can think of two reasons. First, potential readership: MSM websites have more eyeballs than the average blog site. Second, potential to affect the MSM, a non-trivial reason given that most Americans still get their news offline and much (most?) TV and radio news (like much blogosphere commentary) rests on newspaper reporting.

Written by Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, writer, teacher. Webmaster at King County Elections; educator at UW. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill, gplus.to/kegill, http://wiredpen.com

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