…”and when we come back, sports and weather…”

In 1979, Iranian militants took the US Embassy hostage.

They would hold it for 444 days.

The US responded by sending in the media. More than 800 American journalists went to Iran to cover the story. None of them spoke a word of Farsi. The vast majority had no idea where Iran was. I know. I was at ABC News when the crisis hit. No one in the newsroom had the vaguest knowledge of Iran, Persian history or Islam. Yet in a matter of hours, and for many months thereafter, they would ‘inform’ America.

One can only imagine what would happen had China sent 800 Chinese speaking only journalists to Florida to cover the ‘hanging chad crisis’ in 2000. One can only imagine what kind of stories they would have filed.

That failure to ‘inform’ in 1979, in many ways, led to the fiasco in Iraq twenty five years later.

That does not mean that there were not people in the U.S. who really possessed an altogether greater understanding of Iran, or Persian politics than the media looked to have had. That would not have taken much. There were. But the instution of ‘journalism’ kept them from us.

The ‘knowledge’ was there… is there now. But we can’t access it because the architecture of institutional ‘journalism’ means that the machine for ‘broadcasting’ information is in the hands of an elite, few who frankly know next to nothing.

That does not mean that we don’t possess the collective wisdom to understand complex issues and explain them; but we don’t tap into them. Instead, we abnegate that responsibility to the Katie Courics and Matt Lauers.

That is a big mistake.

Up until now, the technology of ‘broadcasting’ only allowed this one approach – one signal to many.

But the web is different.

It allows us to tap into and exploit the ‘intellectual hive’.

Wikipedia is such a collective hive.

It is the largest encyclopedia ever contemplated, yet it employs only seven people. It is, on this month’s chart, the ninth most popular website in the world. It is probably worth more than $4 billion.

It takes no advertising. At the last count it carried pages on 1,799,000 subjects in English alone (and it exists, on a smaller scale, in 252 other languages). It already has a range 20 times greater than the entire 17 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and it is growing at a rate of 1,700 articles a day. At peak times the site has around 15,000 hits every second.

Despite the fact that it is ‘user generated’ and user administered, it is remarkably accurate

The scientific journal Nature recently ran an exercise to test the comparative accuracy of Wikipedia in 42 randomly selected articles: there were 162 mistakes in Wikipedia versus 123 in Britannica. In a 20-page rebuttal, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. characterised Nature’s study as flawed and misleading and called for a ‘prompt’ retraction. Nature refused.

There is something here…

Now, the question is, can we apply this “Wiki” model to the news?

Why not?

What is news but a first draft of an encyclopedia.. so to speak.

And issues are compex… and require more than superficial knowledge.

And ‘news’ increasingly is is with us for a long time. Look at Iraq.. or Darfur.

Perhaps the answer for us instead of replacing Dan with Katie, or changing the set, is to WIKI journalism – that is, to open the process of news and information and analysis to the general public, to contribute to and to continually update and correct.

Maybe in the era of the web, the notion of a ‘broadcast’ and an ‘anchor’ no longer work.

Maybe as the web taps into everyone and allows everyone to participate, news should be everyone’s domain.

Are you listening Les?

Resistance if futile…


One response to “Wikimedia???

  1. Well interstingly I’ve just started work on a new project that is applying the Wiki model to mainstream entertainment. is a daily online comedy sitcom that allows the audience/community to upload their own storylines, scripts, characters, locations etc. Its a great project and could challenge the nature of entertainment. Check it out I’d love to know what you think

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