‘Wiki’ Era Dawns at ‘L.A.Times’: Chaotic, But Kinsley is ‘Loving It’

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By: Joe Strupp

The wikitorial era at the Los Angeles Times began with a somewhat chaotic bang Friday as someone temporarily defaced the feature’s pages with a profane slogan, while other users altered the set up of other pages and even split the featured editorial in two.

Still, Editorial and Opinion Editor Michael Kinsley, who brought the online oddity to the newspaper, declared the first day a success, telling E&P, “I’m loving it. I was worried that no one would come.” He also noted that, despite the defacement, “the ratio of assholes to good will people” is not as high as he had feared.

“There is less of this than I expected,” he said late Friday about the problems that have arisen. “I was worried there might be more.”

The new experiment began at midnight when the paper posted the editorial entitled, “War and Consequences,” which declared that the continued violence and lack of an exit plan is making the situation more and more unacceptable there.

“As the war in Iraq grinds on and the number of U.S. troops remains stubbornly fixed at 140,000, murmurs of dissatisfaction at home become louder and more widespread. Republican members of Congress have joined Democrats in questioning how much longer the troops will have to stay. Colonels and generals estimate two years, perhaps longer. Polls indicate an increasing public unease with the war,” the editorial stated, in part.

Then, as the Wiki approach promises, readers were invited to alter the editorial as they deemed fit and post their revised version, along with others. As of this afternoon, hundreds of versions were posted.

The “Wikis,” which were first announced in a reader’s note last weekend as part of a major shakeup in the Times editorial page approach, are based on the popular Web Wikipedia – an online approach that allows users to edit entries and contribute views and facts on any subject.

But, along with the expected participants on the Times wiki site were some unexpected activities. First, one user managed to change the headline on several pages to read “Fuck USA,” Kinsley said. Editors managed to remove the offensive headline, which went up at about 2 p.m. EDT, but lost some other input from readers at the same time.

“We had to sort of take it all down for a while and some stuff was lost,” Kinsley said. “We don’t know who it was, but he has been locked out.”

Then, a user managed to split the editorial itself into two separate editorials, while another person made changes to the page that, as Kinsley described, “cleaned it up a little.” He later determined that the “clean up” person was one of the Wikipedia editors.

“It’s quite a strange thing,” Kinsley said of the mischief. “I think splitting the editorial was brilliant.”

Still, when asked to explain exactly how the wiki site works, Kinsely admitted, “I am not sure.”

But, Kinsley said the activities raise the issue of how much editors want to filter postings and protect the site from profanity or abuse. “We are going to filter it very lightly,” he said. “We want to keep hands off, but we don’t want a lot of offensive words or extremely offensive ideas.”

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