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Alexis Madrigal and Sarah Rich Headshot

The Wiki That's Building a News Organization

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Everyone says the old school newspapers are dying. Word just hit that Rocky Mountain News will blink out of existence tomorrow. Here in the Bay, our own San Francisco Chronicle has taken some heavy blows. It's down on the mat, with the ref about to finish counting.

It's a sad state of affairs, but for entrepreneurial journalists, imagining a town without a newspaper isn't necessarily a bleak vision. In fact, a zero-paper city looks like an opportunity to leap headlong into a journalistic future we've all been preparing for anyway. Imagine what you could do with a daily news organization if you subtract the paper and assume the Internet (and iPhones and Twitter and...). That's what we said to ourselves around our dinner table the
night that the Chronicle news broke. What could San Francisco look like post-Chronicle? We made a wiki, wrote down some thoughts, and released it into the world as the San Francisco Post Chronicle.

It seems to have struck a chord, spreading from our Twitter streams to dozens of journalists within and outside of the newspaper business. It was as if people were waiting for someone to say, "Ok, let's just start over. Now, what?" Within hours, some fascinating suggestions came into the wiki, like this one: "The PostChron needs to be accessible to those without smartphones, of course, but (I'd argue) it should be designed for those who do have them. The product might even be designed for the iPhone first and the web second." Or how about this revenue idea, courtesy of an anonymous reporter at a big, national paper, "My suggestion would be to launch a mini-team alongside the news desk that would develop (and raise their own cash for) a product that would build on what the newsroom's developing...find something that the Post Chronicle does that no one else can and try to build a web service or proprietary software off that."

We're not saying that these ideas couldn't come from inside a newspaper -- or that newspaper people haven't had them, too -- but maybe it's going to take some radical, citizens effort backed by Silicon Valley money and combining what we love about blogs with what we love about newspapers to actually create the change that allows news organizations to survive.

What do you think? Go to the wiki and build our future.

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