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Kristeligt Dagblad: learning from Wikipedia to become a point of reference for readers

Kristeligt Dagblad: learning from Wikipedia to become a point of reference for readers

Danish paper Kristeligt Dagblad has started to include Wikipedia-inspired pages on topics that its readers often search for, to offer them a comprehensive guide to complex issues. "I believe that newspapers made a historic mistake in giving up the position as a provider of the big picture when news went online," said online editor, Anders Ellebæk Madsen. "Unfortunately, news sites are not where I go to if I need to understand the war in Afghanistan, for instance," he clarified "I go to Wikipedia."

Inspired by this belief, he and his team sought to be that source of information in the Christian national daily's areas of expertise: faith, ethics, morality and social issues. They wanted to organize their content, old and new, in a way that made sense and made it continually useful, rather than just offering a search box which leads to thousands of articles on each major theme. So they adopted a similar layout and structure to Wikipedia entries, although that is where the similarity ends: the pages cannot be updated wiki-style by users.

Each page offers a short summary of the issue and a thorough table of contents, followed by thematic sections with collections of links, videos and photos. Links to relevant topic pages are offered alongside new articles, or readers can access them through a 'topics' section on the site, which has a tab on the homepage. There are main themes and sub-themes within these, to make it easier to find related information.

The topic pages are created by journalists, rather than being automatically generated, Ellebæk Madsen explained: "there is no easy shortcut. If you want to have carefully selected information on a topic you need to do it manually." One journalist was hired to work full time on these topics, so that the project can have the attention the paper feels it deserves. "We start by defining the skeleton of the topic: which elements are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves?" At this point, "we always try to define three to five questions that we want to answer for the reader," and make sure that the "fundamental facts" are easy to find. Links to existing articles make up the bulk of the content, but new elements are produced when necessary.

There are between 300 and 600 topics which have been accumulated over nine years. Topics are distinguished as A- B- and C-topics. "A-topics are the best and we might have spent weeks working them out," Ellebæk Madsen explained, noting that these cover some of the newspaper's key issues such as religious wars, the Danish national church or a moral question like euthanasia. C-topics are more basic: essentially a collection of articles sorted by tags, but could become an A-topic if a big story breaks in this area.

Google's Living Stories project also compiles information on different topics in one place and make it possible to follow a story as it is updated. It is being offered to news organisations and has generally been well received. Ellebæk Madsen does not think that Living Stories is actually comparable to Kristeligt Dagblad's project, however, describing it as not sufficiently human. He pointed out that the Living Stories table of contents is the same for all topics, including 'news,' 'features,' 'opinion,' 'people,' 'quotes,' 'resources,' 'images,' and 'videos,' which does not give the reader any immediate guidance. "I'd choose the human brain (or brains, in the case of Wikipedia) over the machine any time." He believes that providing background on complex issues "is exactly what newspapers should be able to do better than algorithms."

The Associated Press has discussed creating search 'landing pages' around particular topics to provide background around news topics that people might be searching for, pushing them to the most relevant sources of information. AP director of strategic planning Jim Kennedy specified in an interview last year that these would use Wikipedia's design as a rough model. As yet, however, these have not materialized.

Kristeligt Dagblad launched the new style of pages in June, although it had started to compile information on different topics since 2003. Ellebæk Madsen said that it is too early to tell whether readers are enthusiastic and whether people are spending more time on the paper's site as a direct result of the thematic pages, but he said that these do tend to appear high in search results. Seventy to ninety of the paper's traffic goes to older rather than brand new stories, showing that people do frequently come back to old content.

As newspapers seek to remain relevant in the vast and crowded online world, looking for new ways to be useful to their readers is essential. A Wikipedia-style research and reference tool that is professional and therefore more reliable seems an undoubtedly useful resource for readers, and one that is likely to keep readers on the site for longer. As Ellebæk Madsen pointed out, Wikipedia is a comprehensive resource in English but not so extensive or reliable in Danish, so there really is space for Kristeligt Dagblad's information. Is it something that other papers could implement? Would it work for a publication without Kristeligt Dagblad's specialist focus? Opting for human rather than automatic editing is clearly a more expensive and time-consuming option but it is likely to provide a more valuable service.



Emma Goodman


2010-08-31 12:58

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