Open editing: a crucial part of open publishing

Matthew Arnison <maffew .a.t. purplebark .d.o.t. net>
Thanks to Kellan for the highlights idea
Composed November 2002
$Revision: 1.11 $ $Date: 2003/06/09 11:28:24 $
French translation

The most successful part of open publishing so far has been open posting, where anyone in the audience can contribute a story. But sharing stories with Indymedia's growing audience means more choosing and grooming. Introducing open editing would make it easy for audience members to help edit stories and choose the best ones to make them easy for others to find. Open editing would help to clear the current closed bottleneck on editorial functions in Indymedia, and involve a new wave of people in media democracy.

As Indymedia grows it is drifting away from open publishing. The reason is simple. The Active software gave us open story contribution, along with support for text, pictures, sound and video. This was enough to smash a major bottleneck for activist media coverage of major events, and it also worked OK in between while the audience was relatively small. But open publishing is about more than just open posting. It's also about open editing.

As the audience grows, open posting attracts more and more contributions. Well beyond the ability of most readers to sift through. So the front page has become a kind of crude manual open editing, where a collective of people find the best stories and bunch the links up into a summary of that issue. You could also think of it as a collective weblog. But there are still too many stories coming in for a single collective to deal with, so it creates another bottleneck.

What we really need though is automated open editing. Open posting automates the collection of story contributions of anyone in the audience. Open editing would automate the editing contributions from anyone in the audience. This means audience members could logon to Indymedia and help with sub-editing, translation, summarising, and highlighting stories. If we could figure out how to do it and write software to run it, this would smash the next bottleneck in activist media production.

But how would it work? Philladelphia Indymedia has been using's code since 2000, adapting it to allow people to log on and rate each contributed story. For various reasons, some of them technical, this code has not been coped to other Indymedia sites. Active also has some crude story rating code, which most sites disable. and have more sophisticated ratings systems, but slashdot has a closed editorial collective managing which contributions go on the front page, whereas kuro5hin's front page is open, but takes a few days to pick new stories out of the incoming stream. That's too slow for Indymedia.

One proposal for Indymedia open editing relies on a mutation of weblogs. Users would be able to create highlights pages, updating them with the stories they are most interested in. They could choose a topic, or not, or have several different collections, and maybe share their highlights selection with a team of people. Indymedia would then survey all the highlights pages every hour, and then build its front page based on whatever people are highlighting at the time. A bit like, except google surveys all the media websites on the net.

We could also allow people to link their own blogs into Indymedia's front page decisions, we could make it semi-manual, so a collective reviews the software's choices, especially when the system was starting up. And it could expand even more into pages gathering highlights on a particular topic.

It's basically about two things. Making weblogs even easier to create and use so that people can quickly use them for this kind of open editing. And gathering the links from all those weblogs onto the front pages of Indymedia.

This is not just a technology project. All kinds of people need to be involved in the design, and once built it will rely on creative and passionate users for its success. I think it could be very flexible, very organic, and it could take Indymedia to the next level. More stories, more editing, a bigger, more diverse audience.

And a return to the heart of open publishing. Everyone is a witness. Everyone is a journalist. Everyone edits.

Open questions
December 2002

One very important decision a corporate news editor makes is assigning stories to reporters. As part of the continued open sourcing of the news publishing process, story assignment is another function that needs to be automated and distributed.

Of course, assigning stories will mutate with the philosophy of open publishing. I think we could do it using an open questions feature on the website. Sometimes the hardest step in understanding a complex issue is coming up with the right question.

Audience members could contribute one-line questions that they feel need researching. They could be about the latest news, such as "what really happened at the protest today?" Or "What is going to happen at this event next week?" People interested in producing stories could then sign on to these questions, letting others know that atleast someone is on the case. But there would of course be space for more than one person or group to research each question.

Open questions could also be a powerful way to encourage more in depth research. Questions like "what are the alternatives to a war on Iraq?" or "why is refugee oppression so popular with rich-country voters?"

Volunteer reporters can then try and contribute comments and answers. Some people might simply jot in a web address that they think is relevant. Others might add a link to a whole story they just wrote on the issue. Or for frequently asked questions, people might link back to a previous story that they feel answered the question well.

Popular questions could be marked as duplicates, and duplicates counted to get a feel for what issues people feel are important, and encourage even better writing and exploring of those issues. People could rate a question as an important one, providing more feedback to reporters wondering what to work on next.

New, popular or interesting questions could be somehow highlighted on or near the front page. his would open up another section of the open publishing newsroom to audience observation and creativity.

Software programmers often have a bug tracking system which helps geeks keep track of which problems and ideas need work. The best open source and free software projects have open bug lists, that anyone can read and contribute to. This indymedia open questions section would be the news production equivalent of a bug tracking list.

For more on open editing, see the notes at the bottom of my rant "Open publishing is the same as free software".

plus this description of how open editing might work:

Three Proposals for Open Publishing
Towards a transparent, collaborative editorial framework
by Dru Oja Jay

See also this interesting discussion of open editing as used for making changes to stories on

And, of course, Wiki web sites are blossoming with shared creativity.


June 2003

Blogs seem to be evolving into the sort of system I describe. Daypop and blogdex track what people are talking about the most, as a blog alternative to google news. The Technorati link tracking service even has a breaking news that only tracks stuff recently blogged.

And there's lots of fertile development and discussion (is this a post-dotcom effect as suggested in Emergent Democracy?). Structured blogging talks about how to create a dynamic set of topics so people can get a sense of place around topics of discussion, on top of the existing tools for browsing individuals, their social links and links of interest, and raw info-political power (number of hits and cites).

You can copy and distribute this article, as long as you include the web address of the original ( in a way that the whole audience can see. Please let me know if you do reproduce it somewhere, especially if you make changes to it.

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