Collective News Selection and Editing (Rotation)

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
John Kawakami
Independent Media Center, Los Angeles

In creating the IMC-LA, we faced the problem of how to collectively edit the front page of the website. The main concerns were clashes between editorial styles, regular updates, burnout of volunteer editors, quality of features, and relevance of stories. (to be refined)


This pattern can be applied when you need to create an online news source that is updated more than once a week. The participants are volunteers, and there's no hierarchy of editors. The editorial collective exists, not to write news, but to filter news stories.


As stated in the problem, the goal was to create a self-sustaining, volunteer run, news source. It's similar to a weblog, but rather than operate individually, it's edited collectively.

Several different solutions were reviewed, and we opted to model ours on the San Francisco IMC's, which was a rotation of editors, with a role of a writer and an HTML coder (technical assistance). Our modification was to train everyone to edit HTML, and to pair up into editorial teams of two. New members would be trained by placing them into one of these teams, and working on the project.

The goal of LA was slightly different from SF. Specifically, we were not seeking a unified voice or style, but encouraged individual expression, to reflect some of the diversity of the group.

Participation has fluctuated from approximately 12 editors down to around 4. Eight seems to be a good number, and it might be a good idea to spin off additional editorial opportunities when the number starts to approach eight. The problem with too large a group is that people forget that they're "up to bat" and sometimes make conflicting plans. A too small group gets burned out.

The number of new posts and comments on the newswire fluctuates, but is around 15 to 20 per day. The volume of posts will affect how many people are required to edit the site.

The tasks assigned to the editors in rotation were: keep the "newswire" - an open publishing area - free of SPAM and porn, read most of the newswire stories to find suitable features, and write features. The editorial pair have final say on what goes onto the page, but can be overridden by the entire collective via ad-hoc meetings conducted via email.

Note that the "newswire" for IMC is set up for open comments rather than moderated comments. Comments are moderated after the fact. This is specific rule of IMC.

The process of doing the rotation has not been without problems. We have had personal fights. We have also had increases and declines in participation. These experiences, though, have influenced this pattern.

Comments and discussion are appreciated, especially from similar online projects.


Establish a rotation of editors. The rotation must be respected, or the editors will not feel truly empowered to edit. Maintaining borders between editors can be important if there are personal antagonisms that flare up.

Meet regularly, at least once per month. If the meetings stop, the rotation will fall apart. The meetings should be structured to allow for "bonding" or making friends. Meetings should be around 2 hours long, with optional post-meeting socializing. Snacks are a good idea, as are comfortable chairs.

Maintain an accurate calendar. If the people are not aware of the schedule, the rotation will fall apart.

Train aggressively, on an individual basis. It's critical that people know how to use the software, and feel comfortable in it. The software must also be maintained. Plan for 3 hours of training per editor.

Keep the software functional. It's vital that access to editing not be "gated" through an individual person, because increases in bureaucracy tend to lead to decreases in participation.

Keep some readership statistics, so that you can monitor increases in traffic. A good rotation maintains reader interest.

Take breaks. It's vital to stop editing, and to maintain participation in the communities which you are reporting on.

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