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Is the wiki is the most important tool in the newsroom?

Wikipedia has published its 2 millionth article since its inception in 2001, according to Reuters. While there are still doubts about accuracy, there is no denying wikis playing a major role in how information is distributed on the internet.

The wiki, which got its name from the Hawaiian bus system, can be used both internally in a newsroom, or on a news site. Martha Stewart has put the wiki to good use with her recently announced Marthapedia. Stewart is short on details, but the wiki, which is still in development, will be an encyclopedia of tips from Martha Stewart as well as user contributed information.

Wetpaint brings entertainment junkies to create wiki entries on their favorite tv shows, movies and video games. Check out this Heroes wiki from Entertainment Weekly as well as the Project Runway and Halo wikis.

Rifling through yellowed scraps of newspaper or blurry microfiche in the newsroom library can be a drag. Instead of stuffing clips into file folders or hunting through multiple internal webpages for a oft covered subject or source, try creating wiki pages for themm. WikiSpaces and pbwiki for businesses are paid services that are best used for newsrooms who want to share information among reporters. All the information is there on one page and since the information would come directly from the newsroom, there is little chance of it being inaccurate (unless of course the story was inaccurate to begin with.)

PikiWiki knows that the story isn’t always told with text. Its drag and drop feature lets users add pictures, video and text onto a blank canvas. TV newsrooms can use PikiWiki to aggregate reportage on a specific subject or reporter. The service is currently free, but will likely monetize sometime in the near future.

Wikipedia a source? (don't laugh)

Mention the word Wikipedia around most newsrooms, and you’re likely to get a look of disgust and a few rolled eyes. While the collaborative encyclopedia should not be the final destination or the end all and be all of information it does have its uses as a starting point for sources.

From Wikipedia’s entry on itself:

Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project, operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization. As of July 25, 2007, Wikipedia has approximately 7.9 million articles in 253 languages, 1.91 million of which are in the English edition. This makes it the world’s largest, most extensive, and fastest growing encyclopedia ever compiled. It has been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world and the vast majority of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet. Steadily rising in popularity since its inception, it currently ranks among the top ten most-visited websites worldwide.

Wikipedia’s users are often smart and lightning fast. The entry on Anna Nicole Smith announced her death hours before many news sites did. The Hurricane Katrina entry lists 119 sources (thanks Brady). The site also includes specialized entries not seen in any regular encyclopedia, including my favorites Capoeira in popular culture, songs about California and the now non-existent “Competing films with similar plots” (it was removed because it was biased and unverifiable).

Despite its strengths, Wikipedia does have its very well-known weaknesses. Anyone is allowed to edit the entries, though many are corrected eventually by millions of users with a keen eye. A red flag should be any entry with a shaded box with the warning “This article does not cite any references or sources.” These are more likely to appear in less popular, theoretical or highly debated entries.

How to produce a Google Map in minutes with FM Atlas

When breaking news happens, it helps to have a map that points out where the incident happened. FMAtlas is one of many third-party applications that allows users to simply plot points on a Google Map and embed it in any website. In addition, the site also has wiki functionality so users can add and edit points on the map (optional). A complete tutorial on using FMAtlas after the jump:

Setting up the map

To begin, go to and click “Create an account” and create a username and password. After the form is completed, a map will appear. Before plotting points, click on “Edit Map Properties.” A window will appear that offers several options including enabling user contributions, which can also be moderated, enabling wiki-style editing and moderating user contributions.

Another option is to show or hide the sidebar, which is a list of the headlines of points that are plotted on the map. Whether it is turned on or off depends totally on the project.

The next step is define the width and height of the map. By default, FMAtlas pads the map with 25 pixels. So if you want a map with a width and height of 400 x 300, you should enter 375 x 275.

You can also input values for the info window width and height. This controls the size of the balloon that pops up when a point is clicked. Ideally, these dimensions should be large enough for the window to be legible, but small enough so the window doesn’t cover the entire map.

FMAtlas offers a number of icons to be used on the map. Smaller icons should be used for small maps or maps with numerous points. You can create different icons on the same map by plotting the first point(s) and then clicking “Edit Map Properties” again and changing the icon.

Another important option is “Zoom Control.” The “large” option enables a slide tool to zoom in and out of the map. The small control uses + and – as controls.

Once you are done with the map settings, click save.

Plotting points

You can zoom in or out, move the map and plot points simply by clicking on the location you desire. If you are not sure where the point should be or want to add a specific address or intersection, type the location into the input box near the top of the screen. Latitude and longitude can also be plotted in this box ex: (37.874881, -122.259730)

Points can also be plotted in FMAtlas using a CSV file. To create this file, create an Excel spreadsheet that contains the addresses to be plotted. In the file menu, click “Save as…” and select CSV.

In FMAtlas, click “Bulk Upload” above the map. Give the map a name and in the second field, locate the CSV file to be uploaded. Select “Add.”

FMAtlas also allows the user to search by business name, but as there are billions of businesses in the world, some with the same, this is a less reliable option. Even less reliable is the Wikipedia option which allows the user to search Wikipedia entries and plot them on the map.

Embedding the map

Periodic saving is encouraged. Give the map a name and click save near the bottom of the screen. When the map is finished, click Embed. FMAtlas offers an URL and a KML (Google Earth file) that you can link to. Most importantly, the service offers an embed code that can be placed into an HTML file.

The map can be changed and updated at any time without changing the embed code, unless the dimensions of the map are changed.