If you are 6 years old and both your parents read one online, you can be forgiven for not knowing what a newspaper is. You would also be on to something. The news has slipped its moorings. It is no longer held captive by two-inch columns of type or a sonorous 6 p.m. baritone. It has gone on the lam. Anyone can be a reporter – or a book reviewer, TV star, museum guide, podcaster or pundit.
This week The Los Angeles Times announced [pdf] its intention to exile the square and stodgy voice of authority farther yet. The paper will launch an interactive editorial page. “We’ll have some editorials where you can go online and edit an editorial to your satisfaction,” the page’s editor says. “It’s the ultimate in reader participation,” explains his boss, Michael Kinsley. Let’s hope the interactive editorial will lead directly to the interactive tax return. On the other hand, I hope we might stop short before we get to structural engineering and brain surgery. Some of us like our truth the way we like our martinis: dry and straight up.
Kinsley takes as his model Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, and which grows by accretion and consensus. Relatedly, it takes as its premise the idea that “facts” belong between quotation marks. It’s a winning formula; Wikipedia is one of the Web’s most popular sites. I asked a teenager if he understood that it carries a disclaimer; Wikipedia “can’t guarantee the validity of the information found here.” “That’s just so that no one will sue them,” he shrugged. As to the content: “It’s all true, mostly.”
What if we all vote on the truth? We don’t need to, because we will be overruled by what becomes a legend most: entertainment.
Another view on the LATimes’ plan: Abolish Michael Kinsley! Why editorial pages are obsolete. Also, Slashdot’s Editorial Wiki Debuts At LA Times