Monday, August 27, 2007

Online thoughts

Poynter has a new political website called PolitiFact. Seems pretty cool. Here's how its creator describes it:

The site is a simple, old newspaper concept that’s been fundamentally redesigned for the web. We’ve taken the political “truth squad” story, where a reporter takes a campaign commercial or a stump speech, fact checks it and writes a story. We’ve taken that concept, blown it apart into it’s fundamental pieces, and reassembled it into a data-driven website covering the 2008 presidential election.

The whole site is inspired by Adrian Holovaty’s manifesto on the fundamental way newspaper websites need to change. Adrian’s main theme was that certain kinds of newspaper content have consistent pieces that could be better served to the reader from a database instead of a newspaper story. I built PolitiFact with that in mind.

I've been thinking lately along sort of similar lines about online journalism, especially at the local level. For example, I'd like to see a good Detroit-focused Wiki. It could be a nice feature for one of the Detroit papers' websites. The way I see it, if you were reading a story on charter schools and, say, Sharon McPhail's name came up, a link would take you to a page with detailed background information on her. So you could see, among other things, that she presented Dave Bing with a "Sambo Award" for working with Robert Thompson on his charter schools proposal.

Bias and vandalism could be a problem, obviously, but there would be ways to prevent them. Reporters could write at least some of the entries, and they'd be expected to update entries related to their beats on a regular basis. (Reporters constantly find out things that don't end up in their stories. Wikipedia requires that all information be cited to a published article -- "no original research" is a central rule -- but maybe facts added by reporters would have special status.) And newspaper staffers could pre-approve user changes if necessary.

Then again, I spend a lot of time doing aimless research on Google and Wikipedia, and I suspect most people don't. So I could very well be overestimating the audience for something like this.

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