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Vandalism Fucks Up LA Times Experiment

Los Angeles- The Los Angeles Times has canceled a novel Internet feature that allowed readers to rewrite an editorial on the newspaper’s website, after some users sabotaged the site with foul language and pornographic images.

The newspaper launched the experimental “wikitorial” Friday and killed it early Sunday after an unknown user or users posted explicit photos.

An announcement on the newspaper’s website, , said the feature had been removed “at least temporarily, because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material.”

But managers of the newspaper’s editorial and Internet operations, which have undergone a number of changes in recent months, said they might attempt to resurrect online editorials written collectively by readers.

“As long as we can hit a high standard and have no risk of vandalism, then it is worth having a try at it again,” said Rob Barrett, general manager of Los Angeles Times Interactive.

The feature introduced by The Times editorial page last week relied on the same “open source” software used by other “wikis” on the Internet. The technology allows multiple users to write and rewrite a single Web page.

The form’s communal spirit has made the online encyclopedia “Wikipedia” tremendously popular and spawned imitators.

Editors said they believed that The Times was the first major U.S. newspaper to invite readers to “wiki” on its website.

An essay that introduced the feature Friday acknowledged that some believed that the experiment could prove an embarrassment.

Nearly 1,000 users registered to participate in the rewriting of Friday’s lead editorial. Called “War and Consequences,” the piece argued for the U.S. to set goals for training Iraqis to replace U.S. troops in Iraq and for the firing of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld if those goals were not met.

Although marred by some profanity by contributors, the experiment got off to a fairly high-minded start, said Michael Newman, deputy editor of the editorial page, who proposed the wikitorial idea.

Voluntarily overseeing part of the discussion was Wikipedia founder Jim Wales, who soon encouraged “forking” the editorial into two pieces – one taking a pointed anti-war stance and the other arguing for the ongoing U.S. presence in Iraq.

After midnight Saturday, Newman said, he stopped monitoring the site for the night, and later the pornographic images began to pour in.

One image that was repeatedly posted is infamous on the Internet for its depiction of a man’s private parts.

Barrett said he was called about 4 a.m. at home, and he ordered the feature shut down immediately.

Wikis could be brought back to The Times website, he said, but perhaps with a limited group of contributors or with a Times employee reviewing text changes before they could be displayed.

Some traditionalists who work on the editorial pages had expressed skepticism about an unregulated dissection of an editorial.

But Dan Gillmor, previously a technology writer for the San Jose Mercury News, said in his Internet blog that The Times deserved “credit for trying.”

He blamed the “bottom feeders” for polluting the experiment and said the newspaper should try again because “in the end, there are more good people than bad – and eventually the good folks would have made the vandalism a pointless exercise.”



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