Issue system

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David Mason and Mai Hoang are working to develop an editing issue system that would document necessary edits made in stories and other types of written content.

Why this functionality matters

Newspaper editors deal with ample amount of editing on a daily basis. Editors will deal with everything from a blog entry to multi-day series. Editing is also done on internal documents, such as a in-house stylebook or police contacts. In our discussions we determined the following challenges:

  • How can editors better deal with multiple layers of content. At one time, it use to be that a newspaper would edit a story at the end of the day. Now newspapers deal with multiple types of content throughout the day including breaking news updates, blogs and then the traditional story at the end of the day.
  • Most newspapers, particularity small and mid-sized ones, are short staffed. Related to point one, reporters are often dealing with multiple pieces of content at the same time. Though it is a myth to do "more with less," it is important to find ways to be more efficient in the editing process.
    • Another perspective is that "short staffed" is a metaphor for "insular, lazy and able to stonewall learning new efficient methods". Most newspapers have lots of eager editorialists (journalism students, frequent letter to the editor writers, activists spin doctors) who could participate in low-risk aspects of the process like finding verifiable sources for key facts
  • The editing process is one of the key opportunities for reporters and editors to learn and develop. Unfortunately, in the rush of the 24-hour news cycle, editing has become more rushed. Is there a way to provide insight that can help both the editor and reporter improve? Also, is there a way to promote more front-end editing, which is where the editor discusses with the reporter at the beginning of the reporting process what is necessary for the story?

Out of these discussions we decided to develop a wiki-based system that would list and track the editing of content.

Features of this functionality

  • In-line editing task annotations. Instead of waiting for the editor to complete editing a story, an editor can go and flag changes (tasks) that need to be made. Here's the basic process:
    • The editor receives the content.
    • The editor reads and begins editing. The editor can go ahead and cite necessary revisions (AP Style, reporting holes, writing issues, etc) within the text.
    • The edit request show up on a list that the reporter can access.
    • The reporter begins to complete those tasks while editing continues. The reporter could also note when he or she completes the necessary edited tasks or ask for follow up questions.
  • Prioritization of editing. As I mentioned, there is a page to view edit requests. Editors would also have the option of prioritizing those tasks. This would work great if the reporter is dealing with multiple types of content at one time.
  • The ability to document at the beginning of the reporting process what is desired for a story (story focus; people to interview; sides to cover). The system would also allow documentation of necessary follow for a story or other piece of content.
  • The ability to directly import the information from the wiki to any content management system. (Ideally, it would be nice if the wiki and the content management system was one in the same, but we know that this isn't always the case.)
  • Eventually, we would like to develop a system that would also allow different areas of the newspaper (i.e. online departments, advertising, etc.) to bring up issues and tasks to each other. For example, if an editor has a problem with the CMS, the editor would be able to log into the system and flag a problem.

What's been done so far, what barriers remain

  • The focus right now is the first two features, in-line editing task annotations and the prioritization of those tasks.
  • David has worked on developing the infrastructure for these two features.
  • David has worked with Mai to determine how these annotations can work within her existing work flow.
  • Mai has had the opportunity to test out the system. David provided a short writing sample for Mai to edit. Mai in turn put her edits on the writing system.
  • Mai did a follow-up discussion with David to talk about the challenges of the system. They include:
    • Upfront learning of wiki syntax. It might be a hard sell for older editors to learn code.
      • position: Let them use facebook comments in talk pages, then have streamlined workflow to update pages from those, logging in "as" those persons so their contribution shows up as if they themselves had done the job, in the edit summary - when they realize there are potential broken telephone problems with this, they will eventually take over that editing personally
      • position: really no alternative to learning mediawiki syntax unless you want the "other side" always editing Wikipedia...? no publicly involved person can afford not to learn it in 2011
    • This system works great if there is plenty of editing time. It works great for a long-form project. But Mai expressed concern whether this system could handle content done in almost real-time, fast paced deadlines.
      • position:tagging lets others help; Wikipedia handles real time event management very well; Ability to let third parties do the tagging and frame detection and bias detection and proof-reading ultimately makes the entire process work much faster

What's next

  • The focus is to improve on the task annotations and the priority of those annotations:
    • Mai will continue to bring up and discuss concerns about this system, particularly its effect on existing editing process.
    • David will continue to adjust the wiki infrastructure to address concerns.
    • Mai will continue to test those two features under different mock situations.
    • We will have feedback discussions based on those tests.
    • Repeat.
  • Once those two features are working, we will begin work on integrating other features.

Proposed features

  • integrate with the more conventional task/project infrastructure that Creative Commons developed for semantic project management, originally CcTeamspace
  • rapid import and integration with facebook issue groups, especially those taking strong positions on certain issues - critical to engage persons who have already expressed an issue; especially, import of links posted to those groups with some tagging
  • import/export of issue/position/argument [1] pages possibly including tikiwiki, popular in Canada for issue debate - which can be more easily edited in more standard mediawiki format; make it easier to extend to deeper formats
  • means of identifying popular memes without judging or analyzing them (yet) and developing editorial policy statements about them or level of ontological warfare going on
  • Features required of an explicitly political public wiki which may be further debated in a Canadian context in this wiki: explicitly political public wiki, most of which are in common with journalism, but with the complexity that many frames or POV must be explicit. To that end especially consider:
  • create a position:namespace to differentiate what might be taken as positions of the wiki as a whole (like "2010/G20 and G8 Budget/Summit costs were unreasonable" [2] which is highly opinionated and not obviously anything other than evidence of editorial bias, while "position:2010/G20 and G8 Budget/Summit costs were unreasonable" is much more obviously NPOV).
  • Means of bad frame detection, and other explicit semantic frames so that positions may be identified and issues neutrally stated, trite terminology dismissed,
    • semantically differentiate a particular short-term "debate" from the longer term "issue" framing persistent over time (most "debates" are short lived and "decided", while "issues" can sometimes be persistently argued for thousands of years and allow for many re-framings, e.g. democracy vs. autocracy, humanitarian vs. indirect operational views of economics, etc.)
    • a frame:namespace to differentiate arguments about the frame itself, and agree on labelling standard for certain POV; Dkosopedia is quite advanced at political semantics esp. cataloguing frames:
    • Practical frame support, noting current framing problems relevant to Canadian journalism, of which there are many, e.g. "Oil Sands vs. Tar Sands", "GDP as prosperity", "subsidies in Internet access", "subsidies to political parties" and so on.


Avoiding custom code saves a lot of effort and focuses on the application instead.

Extensions to use as is

  • Replace text, required to fix typos across a database - use with care as journalling is imperfect, i.e. changes aren't in history
  • dynamic page list of most recent changes in a category or union of same
  • Tree view of long lists
  • Parser string functions to allow the use of looked-up data in pages and variables for page-scoped variables
  • Structured Data transfer and literal external data support, reducing the data management load in mediawiki itself and making it easier to integrate legacy systems
  • Semantic Drilldown lets new users more simply navigate a vast database of semantically tagged data using a more form-like approach; Also Import text from other wikis.
  • Advanced user rights and ACL to deal with contractual or fuddy-duddy concerns about universal page editing - only use permission schemes if being paid to manage them, as they almost always go awry, are overused and cripple a wiki
  • per namespace group permissions useful for very authoritative (policy, user) or contentious (position, faction point of view) namespaces.

Extensions to extend

  • Specialize replace text to deal with cases like name correction, policy changes on how to spell words with multiple spellings (especially in translations e.g. from Arabic), and journal these better, i.e. record the change properly in some log of universal changes for better accountability
  • Specialize the various permissions and rights schemes for editorial roles (publisher, chief editor, reporter, source, etc.)
  • Modify the Extension:Facebook to not just "like/unlike" but mark a statement as having a given frame or just having a "bad frame", noting a "position" or providing citable evidence or etc.
  • Modify the Extension:Semantic_Project_Management to support multiple perspectives or frames on priorities, "what must be done"; When dealing with management of priorities in a collective, people can then organize into factions and vote (especially allocation-vote) on what needs attention. For both that purpose and identification of frames/POV/bias, consider
  • Support a chromatic space model rather than left/right model of framing
  • Extend the various rights and permissions frameworks to deal with voluntarily-allied user factions of similar views/POV, giving them their own "party" and namespace to develop views and filters (for instance, omitting certain authorities they do not trust)

Entirely new extensions to propose and perhaps create

  • A general attribution tool to attempt to identify the ultimate authority or authorities cited by sources advancing claims, especially to determine whether a large number of reports are ultimately relying on a single source and therefore fragile
  • Specific to Canada and its abusive libel laws: A libel analysis tool to look through an archive for potentially defamatory words and claims, or suspect sources that may have made false factual statements quoted, and prioritize the tasks defined in law to claim a reportage defense. Sensitive to suit filing deadlines, e.g. three months Ontario , 2 years BC to reliably report when the right to sue on given material would be denied, when it passes certain publication thresholds of readership (important to prove jurisdiction), etc.

Using a wiki and issue tracking in journalism workflow

Project Integrated semantic discourse systems
Topic Integrated semantic discourse systems

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