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L.A. Times shuts reader-editorial Web site

After just three days, flood of "inappropriate material" prompts L.A. Times to close site where readers could rewrite editorials.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read
In a short-lived mass media experiment, the Los Angeles Times has closed a Web site it launched on Friday that allowed readers to rewrite editorials.

The paper said it made the move after the site was flooded with obscene messages and photos.

Dubbed "Wikitorial" after the popular Wikipedia collaborative encyclopedia project, the Web site was blank on Monday morning, except for a short explanation:

"Unfortunately, we have had to remove this feature, at least temporarily, because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material. Thanks and apologies to the thousands of people who logged on in the right spirit."

In launching the Web site three days earlier, the newspaper invited readers to collaborate online.

"Do you see fatuous reasoning, a selective reading of the facts, a lack of poetry?" the Web site asked. "Rewrite the editorial yourself, using a Web page known as a 'wiki.'"

Further down, the Web site acknowledged the risk of failure.

"Plenty of skeptics are predicting embarrassment; like an arthritic old lady who takes to the dance floor, they say, the Los Angeles Times is more likely to break a hip than to be hip. We acknowledge that possibility. Nevertheless, we proceed."

Despite having procedures in place to detect disruptions, the Los Angeles Times said in a statement on Monday that it pulled the plug on its "new form of opinion journalism" on Sunday after discovering "repeated postings of obscene language and photos."

The site will remain inactive until the paper determines how to minimize future disruptions, the statement said.

Two editorials in Monday's home edition, accessed on Lexis-Nexis, gave an indication of some of the issues that afflicted the site.

"I see by midday that the title of your first wikitorial already has morphed from 'War and Consequences' into 'Dreams About War and Retribution,'" wrote Martin Edward Stein of Portola Valley, Calif.

"Some participants have erased nine-tenths of the content at any given time... Instead of inventing a new form of national agora, you have built a virtual mosh pit," he wrote.

Rus Mitchell of Encino, Calif., had a sarcastic take.

"The opportunity for me to fake it that I am a concerned citizen, and do nothing, as usual, is greatly appreciated," he wrote. "I can't thank you enough for the ability to 'change the page' so I can continue the delusion that I possess an 'artistic nature' and divert my attention away from the pathetic life I lead living day to day in a megalopolis of cars, fast food and wealth envy."