The Return of the Wiki: ‘L.A. Times’ May Bring Back Experiment, Some Day

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By: Joe Strupp

Los Angeles Times editors have not ruled out bringing back its short-lived wikitorial experiment in some fashion in the future. But, after a debut weekend that saw profanity, pornography, and extensive editing of the Web feature by readers, it may be some time before it reappears.

“There are things we have to figure out,” Deputy Editorial Page Editor Michael Newman told E&P. “I don?t think it was a big mistake. We were careful to say in the build-up that it was an experiment and we were trying it out and we will see what we can do next.”

Newman, who joined the paper May 9 after several years at The New York Times, proposed the wikitorial idea, according to the paper. It began Friday with an editorial about the Iraq War and an invitation for online readers to rewrite the piece to reflect their opinions. A Los Angeles Times story today revealed that at least 1,000 people registered to take part in the feature, which saw several hundred rewritten versions of the Iraq editorial by Friday afternoon.

But the abuse began almost immediately, with someone defacing the site by placing the phrase “F— USA” on several pages Friday afternoon, while another vandal placed pornographic images sometime early Sunday morning, Newman said. By Sunday afternoon, the feature had been shutdown and a note posted telling readers it had been suspended.

“Readers took things in an unforeseeable way,” Newman said. “They put up different editorials, they fine-tuned things, and had some high-minded debates, Newman said, seeking to promote the positive aspects of the discussion site. “Then some less high-minded people came in, defaced it, and started screwing around. There was just inappropriate stuff that we couldn?t have.”

Editorial and Opinion Editor Michael Kinsley could not be reached for comment this because he is on vacation, according to Newman. But, Kinsley had told E&P Friday that, while he liked the open approach, even he had trouble understanding exactly how the feature might work. “It’s quite a strange thing,” he said about the reader activities on Friday.

Today, the Times reported in print that it had stopped the wikitorials, telling readers it had cancelled the “novel Internet feature that allowed readers to rewrite an editorial on the newspaper’s website, after some users sabotaged the site with foul language and pornographic images.”

The paper offered some hope for a future reincarnation, stating “managers of the newspaper’s editorial and Internet operations, which have undergone a number of changes in recent months, said they might attempt to resurrect online editorials written collectively by readers.”

Rob Barrett, the paper’s Interactive general manger, told Times readers, “as long as we can hit a high standard and have no risk of vandalism, then it is worth having a try at it again.”

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