The UK floods: why did no one create a flood wiki?

Thinking about the weeks of coverage we’ve had in the UK of the worst floods to hit the country in decades, it seems to me there’s been a missed opportunity by news organisations to create a resource that would have been hugely useful to the hundreds of thousands of residents affected: a wiki.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, a wiki quickly sprang up where people could exchange information on survivors, places of safety, and other useful information. Of course, it may be that something was created for the UK floods, and I’m not aware of it. If so, let me know.

Reminder: my wiki on wiki journalism is still welcoming contributions. If you know of examples, literature on the subject of participatory journalism/wikis, or have analysis of your own, please visit http://wikijournalism.pbwiki.com/ – the password to contribute is ‘wikiwiki’. All (non-anonymous) contributions will be acknowledged.

3 thoughts on “The UK floods: why did no one create a flood wiki?

  1. Pingback: Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » The critiques

  2. Ollie

    A flood wiki would have been great but I think you hit the twin boundaries of knowledge and resources. Not many journalists would be able to give a solid answer to the question, “What is a wiki?”, and in many cases there’s no reason why they should be able to. Of those that could answer the question, even fewer would be able to tell you how to establish a wiki.

    More to the point, finding the staff to keep the wiki running is the issue. It’s all well and good setting one up, but you can’t do it half-heartedly – either you have a wiki that’s the first port of call for anyone affected in your patch, with up to the minute informaton, or you don’t have one. An out-of-date flood wiki is probably dangerous, let alone unhelpful, and information changes all the time during a flood. Someone needs to be marshalling it, monitoring contributions and making editorial decisions, otherwise we’re not doing our jobs properly.

    Major news organisations don’t, as yet, have the staff to start dedicating employees to manning these things, giving them the proper editorial they need. With the BBC Berkshire flood map I essentially took myself out of the rota for a week to maintain it, and our website switched to a sort of rolling flood news using the map as the central point of information. I’d rather have the map than a flood wiki and there’s no way we could have sustained both.

    (On a side note I’d take issue with the statement “not necessarily any practical information”, I have to say. We had up-to-the-minute flood warning details from the Environment Agency, colour coded according to severity, checked 14 hours a day for seven days by yours truly, alongside timestamped photos and video and the latest audio reports from key points along the river, plus locations of emergency centres for sandbags, shelter and advice. If not quite a 100 per cent foolproof guide to whether your house had flooded or not, at the very least the flood warning info was a more helpful guide than the sometimes tricky-to-grasp information the Environment Agency gave us on air.)

    Essentially, if you’re going to have a wiki, you need the editorial capacity to properly support one – I don’t agree that these things can sustain themselves without much input from staff. You need to be able to highlight the best contributions, order the information, supply quality editorial and copy alongside user-generated content, and present a top quality finished product to your site visitors. If you’re not confident you can do that then don’t attempt it – major news organisations can’t afford to produce a wiki that doesn’t do the job. So until we’re convinced we can deliver to a very high standard, I don’t think we should be rushing into it.

    Reply
  3. Paul Bradshaw

    Thanks for your hugely informative comment, Ollie – this is why I run this blog! I know it was expecting a lot for any news organisation to look to a blog – my post was essentially saying “Think about this for next time, and plan for it”, and unfortunately, it does look like there’ll be more next times to come.

    Reply

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