Breaking news on Wikipedia: Collaborating, collating and competing
First Monday

Breaking news on Wikipedia: Collaborating, collating and competing by Bunty Avieson

When a major global news event occurs, such as the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka or the March shootings in New Zealand, Wikipedia contributors from around the world come together in a virtual newsroom to craft a narrative, followed closely by readers seeking the latest information. In any given month, the site’s most popular articles — both in number of views and number of edits — are those reporting breaking news. Wikipedia’s protocols of ‘no original research’ mean the contributors must draw on the work of journalists, collating and re-purposing what has been published online. Taking as a case study the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis this paper analyzes Wikipedia’s breaking news practices and the ways the Internet is changing perceptions of news.


The siege, the media and Wikipedia — A timeline
Defining Wikipedia as a hybrid system
Wikipedia is not a newspaper
Inside the Wikipedia ‘newsroom’
How the page evolved
One month later
Nearly three years later




Wikipedia has been called the ‘most influential source of information in the world’ and ‘our first destination when we want to understand something’ (Kleeman, 2015). It is celebrated as a highly productive community of collaborative authorship (Forte and Bruckman, 2008), the best-developed attempt to gather all human knowledge in one place (Okoli, et al., 2014), a site of information power (Ford, 2016), a feature of everyday life (Lovink and Tkacz, 2011) and a global memory place in which the processes of negotiation of meaning can be studied empirically [1]. It offers researchers ‘an unprecedented opportunity ... to study how we, as a society, build our cultural representations of the past’ [2].

Founders Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger established the site in 2001 as a collaborative knowledge bank, where every person could share in the sum of all knowledge [3] and where policy, content and any conflicts that arise would be negotiated within the Wikipedia community and a consensus achieved [4]. The site started with three core principles which underpin the protocols that evolved: neutral point of view, no original research, and verifiability (Wikipedia: Core content policies, 2016). These principles were intended to enable people to work together across philosophical divides. Nathaniel Tkacz explains: ‘Wikipedia is collaborative not because it has no hierarchies but because it has policies that mediate between different and, indeed, often conflicting views, seemingly absorbing different perspectives into a single frame’ [5].

A neutral point of view requires articles to be written without bias, by fairly and proportionately representing all significant views. This closely resembles the journalistic value of objectivity which Jean Chalaby defines as comprising neutrality, impartiality, balance and fairness [6]. The ‘no original research’ policy requires that Wikipedia not publish original material, which excludes first-hand reporting such as describing a situation as it unfolds in front of you. This means relying on the published accounts of others, which in the case of a breaking news story is necessarily journalists. The verifiability policy dovetails with this, determining that all material likely to be ‘challenged’ must be attributed to a reliable source. In breaking news, this is online news reports, that ‘rough first draft of history’ [7].

The platform started out with the motto ‘anyone can edit’, but in practise contributors function within a hierarchy, not unlike a traditional newsroom, with experienced Wikipedians operating as senior editors, determining what information is included and what is deleted, as well as how an event is framed.

Encyclopedias and newspapers share legitimacy as creators, repositories and expounders of knowledge, that are the result of centuries of contestation and transformation. They both make truth claims and offer institutionalised modes of knowledge dissemination. Historically, they occupied different space in the broader media landscape. Due to their different print technologies encyclopedias weren’t in the business of news and newspapers weren’t in the business of aggregating knowledge. Wikipedia represents the convergence of these two institutions. It both collates and competes with news organisations, providing updated information, overseen by editors who operate in ways that reflect and reinterpret established newsroom practices. Wikipedia operates in the news space as a hybrid system [8].

While the emerging dominance of Facebook and Google in the news media ecosystem continues to be well examined, Wikipedia has received little attention. In 2011 Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz established a new wave of Wikipedia research and this paper builds on their seminal work, as well as the news-focused research of Brian Keegan and Heather Ford, to investigate the ways in which Wikipedians adopt the routine practices of journalists. By documenting the page at three points in time — after 24 hours, one month and three years — it demonstrates how the pattern of sourcing and framing shifts over time from news-based to more encyclopaedic. This provides insights into the processes of news becoming history as mediated by this increasingly popular collaborative platform.



The siege, the media and Wikipedia — A timeline

At 9.44 am on 15 December 2014, Man Monis, took hostage 18 people in a café in the centre of Sydney’s busy banking and shopping district. Declaring his allegiance to Islamic State, Monis ordered the café manager to lock the doors, then donned a vest and bandana, produced a sawn-off shotgun and announced “This is an attack. I have a bomb.” He ordered hostages to hold up to the windows a black flag inscribed with a message in Arabic and told the manager to call Triple Zero, to announce Australia was under attack by Islamic State (Levy and Begley, 2014).

At 9.51 am, Police arrived at the scene.

At 9.52 am, journalist Chris Kenny who had just minutes earlier left the shop tweeted: ‘Scary situation Martin place — cops clearing area — woman says man may have shotgun’ (Levy and Begley, 2014). Kenny had more than 28,000 Twitter followers, including journalists in Australia and abroad.

Across the road Network 7’s Morning Show was broadcasting live, using the streetscape as a backdrop. The unfolding siege was live streamed across the world. showing police with guns drawn sidling up to the café, two women holding a flag with Arabic writing against the window and hostages with hands in the air.

Over the next 90 minutes journalists for local and international media arrived at the scene. At 10.16 am Australia’s Guardian ( started live blogging, followed by The Australian ( at 10.24 am and ABC 24 went live around the same time.

At 11.36 am a registered Wikipedia contributor, who was in the Philippines, saw live footage on BBC World News and created a new page headed ‘2014 Sydney hostage crisis’. They started the page using a ‘current event’ template, designed for breaking news coverage, which carries the disclaimer ‘This article documents a current event. Information may change rapidly as the event progresses, and initial news reports may be unreliable. The last updates to this article may not reflect the most current information.’

The page title would later be challenged [9], but ultimately has remained. It is an example of what Heather Ford (2017) describes as: ‘Interpretive flexibility at the start of the article, which becomes more rigid as you go.’

Within 30 minutes of the page being created, other contributors arrived; an Australian, who added that Sydney was in Australia, followed by an experienced Wikipedian in Sweden, where it was 3 am. Referencing Sky News and London’s ITV News, he added two pieces of information — that the Sydney Opera House had been evacuated and Australia’s Prime Minister had convened the National Security Committee of Cabinet. He also removed the page creator’s claim: ‘suspected to be symphatizers [sic] of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ explaining that it was mere speculation [10].

In the hours that followed these three were joined by other contributors around Australia as well as in the U.S. (Chicago, Ohio, Alaska, Utah and Hawaii), plus Canada, Pakistan, Finland, Ireland, France, Canada, Egypt, Iraq and the Ukraine, to collaboratively synthesize the news that was emanating from reporters on the ground in Sydney and being rebroadcast/published worldwide. Some were experienced editors, with detailed profile pages, a couple had expertise in siege pages, and others were newcomers. This international network worked independently and collaboratively, to aggregate, synthesize, repurpose, argue and update the page as journalists reported online. Entries ranged from the hyperlocal, such as local road closures, to a sympathetic tweet from the Canadian Prime Minister.

The edit history shows that at 11.20 am on 16 December a Wikipedia contributor removed the current event template (see Figure 1) [11]. This was nearly 24 hours after it was created and at that point 176 contributors had worked on the page, significantly more than the average number of contributors for a Wikipedia page which is estimated between 7 and 21 (Auray, et al., 2007). This marks the point where Wikipedia stopped treating the siege as breaking news. It was 10 hours after police had stormed the café, and arguably the event had ended when the hostages were released, but it reflected newsroom practices. The point where news organisations stop following an event live is a somewhat arbitrary decision, arrived at by news organisations independently. For example, The Australian stopped live blogging at 6.45 am on 16 December; the Sydney Morning Herald at 9.21 pm and Australia’s Guardian at 10.15 pm. For a Wikipedia editor, that moment came after the country’s national newspaper but before the state broadsheet. At the point that the template was removed it cited 72 references, and its opening page looked like this:


Page looked like at 11.20 am on 16 December
Figure 1: What the page looked like at 11.20 am on 16 December before the current event template was removed [12].
Note: Larger version available here.


Choosing any moment in the life of a Wikipedia article is problematic as they are never finished, rather they are constantly being updated, rewritten and often revised through a contemporary lens. Clay Shirky writes ‘A Wikipedia article is a process, not a product, and as a result, it is never finished’ [13]. This is partly the nature of a rolling news story, but more significantly it is a function of the open, intellectual commons that underpins Wikipedia’s collaborative philosophy. According to the processual approach, commons are always in a state of becoming, not a state of being (Broumas, 2017). The narrative of the siege is never finished.



Defining Wikipedia as a hybrid system

Wikipedia has a shapeshifting identity that morphs and transmutes according to consensus, creating a conflicted ontology that is reflected in ongoing tensions among contributors. Fault lines include between inclusionists and deletionists [14], who contest the space affordances provided by the online platform. Inclusionists argue there are no limits, the site should be free to contain all the facts of the world. Deletionists say it is not a junkyard and should meet rigorous standards for inclusion [15].

There is also tension between the longer-term encyclopedic view versus immediacy, something highly valued in journalism but not embraced by all in the Wikipedia community. This is most obvious in the protocols around ‘recentism’.

Recentism is a phenomenon on Wikipedia where an article has an inflated or imbalanced focus on recent events. It is writing without an aim toward a long-term, historical view ... Recentism is a symptom of Wikipedia’s dynamic and immediate editorial process, and has positive aspects as well — up-to-date information on breaking news events, vetted and counter-vetted by enthusiastic volunteer editors, is something that no other encyclopedia can offer. But in the long-term, Wikipedia is not a newspaper. [16]

Wikipedia offers suggestions for how best to work with the phenomenon, as well as suggesting how to respond to an accusation of recentism. But it is also seen as offering positive benefits:

Recentism in one sense — established articles that are bloated with event-specific facts at the expense of longstanding content — is considered a Wikipedia fault ... When dealing with contemporary subjects, editors should consider whether they are simply regurgitating media coverage of an issue or actually adding well-sourced information that will remain notable over time.

One of Wikipedia’s strengths is the collation and sifting through of vast amounts of reporting on current events, producing encyclopedia-quality articles in real time about ongoing events or developing stories: natural disasters, political campaigns and elections, wars, product releases, assassinations. [17]

These points of view, which co-exist within the Wikipedia community, demonstrate how it is constantly being pulled in two directions — simultaneously situated in real time as well as the long term — which effectively blurs the boundaries of both news and temporality in reporting. It is a hybrid media system, defined by Andrew Chadwick as rejecting simple dichotomies and nudging us away from either/or patterns to ‘not only, but also’ patterns of thought [18]. Wikipedia publishes both breaking news and historic information, and there is no identifiable point where one becomes the other. Articles that start as a news event is unfolding, continue to evolve even after years have passed and the event has been complicated by later events.

Brian Keegan analysed Wikipedia’s coverage of seven major shooting events/massacres — six in the U.S. and one in Norway — and identified some patterns, including that around the third or fourth hour one or more experienced editors come in and start to ‘clean up’. Keegan (2012a) found that a single editor, known on Wikipedia by the handle WWGB, had edited all seven of the pages he was studying. WWGB performs the routine practices of a senior editor or sub-editor, bringing experience and knowledge of the publishing protocols. He also acts as a moderating influence on new editors who bring an agenda during these news events of high political and cultural significance. WWGB also worked on the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis page, logging in 90 minutes after it was created. He performed 150 edits in the first 24 hours, placing him in the top five editors of the page. WWGB’s philosophical approach to Wikipedia is towards inclusion and he sees live reporting as a natural fit for Wikipedia.

There are those purists who think Wikipedia is an encyclopedia — you don’t put fingers to keyboards until the dust has settled. ‘You don’t need an article on the Lindt siege while it is unfolding. You write that in a week or a month when all the facts are at hand and then you can go through them and write the best possible article ...’ Why should the fact that it is a breaking story make it less accessible than something which is more historical? I think there is room in Wikipedia for all of it. History starts from this point in time. It doesn’t start in three days or a month. A breaking story is becoming part of history because what happened half an hour ago is already the history of that event. (WWGB, personal communication, 7 September 2017)

The affordances of the platform combined with the practices of editors serves to collapse temporal boundaries such as whether an event is current, evolving or historic. Wikipedia’s hybridity also serves to collapse categories of information. Historically legacy media presented news to be consumed in a linear progression, with news dominating the front section of newspapers, while features, opinion, reviews, and softer stories were relegated to later pages. Internet platforms, with their pull-down affordances replacing legacy media’s push-down supply, have disrupted the linear progression of news consumption. A recent study among students in Britain, France, America, and Russia showed ‘young news consumers distinguish but do not prioritize hard news over soft, political over personal’ (Rulyova and Westley, 2017). The students recorded their news consumption and significantly their understanding of ‘news’ centred on information that they didn’t already know but which interested them. One gave equal weighting to air strikes in Syria, Grammy Awards, and a friend’s new puppy. Others included Ukraine conflict, Ebola crisis, a tiger on the loose in Paris, film trailers, celebrity pregnancies, and restaurant reviews (Rulyova and Westley, 2017). WWGB makes the same point: ‘People come to Wikipedia for facts. In their mind, what was the cause of World War 2 is perhaps no different to what’s happening at the Lindt siege.’ (personal communication, 7 September 2017)

Wikipedia’s hybridity and conflicted ontology make it difficult to define. Mostly it is defined by what it is not. Apart from the original core principles, policies are continually negotiated and new ones introduced. It is part of its ‘no firm rules’ ethos: ‘Wikipedia has policies and guidelines, but they are not carved in stone; their content and interpretation can evolve over time. The principles and spirit matter more than literal wording, and sometimes improving Wikipedia requires making exceptions.’ [19]

In 2006 Wales made a rare foray into policy and personally updated the lengthy section ‘What Wikipedia is not’ to add ‘is not a newspaper’ (Forte and Bruckman, 2008).



Wikipedia is not a newspaper

As Wikipedia is not a paper source, editors are encouraged to include current and up-to-date information within its coverage, and to develop stand-alone articles on significant current events. However, not all verifiable events are suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia. Ensure that Wikipedia articles are not:

  1. Original reporting. Wikipedia should not offer first-hand news reports on breaking stories. Wikipedia does not constitute a primary source. However, our sister projects Wikisource and Wikinews do exactly that, and are intended to be primary sources. Wikipedia does have many encyclopedia articles on topics of historical significance that are currently in the news, and can be updated with recently verified information.

  2. News reports. Wikipedia considers the enduring notability of persons and events. While news coverage can be useful source material for encyclopedic topics, most newsworthy events do not qualify for inclusion. For example, routine news reporting on things like announcements, sports, or celebrities is not a sufficient basis for inclusion in the encyclopedia. While including information on recent developments is sometimes appropriate, breaking news should not be emphasized or otherwise treated differently from other information. ... Wikipedia is also not written in news style ... . [20]

There are many reasons why Wikipedia is not a newspaper, most notably their lack of economic imperative and their news gathering practices, which are solely aggregation and assemblage, contributed by unpaid volunteers, according to the very particular — and often contradictory — Wikipedia protocols. But their own reasoning is contradictory. The claim that breaking news should not be emphasized or treated differently doesn’t fit with the specific parameters set by their ‘current event’ template. The entry also claims that Wikipedia is not written in ‘news style’ which also doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It defines news style as:

News style encompasses not only vocabulary and sentence structure, but also the way in which stories present the information in terms of relative importance, tone, and intended audience. The tense used for news style articles is past tense. News writing attempts to answer all the basic questions about any particular event — who, what, when, where and why (the Five Ws) and also often how — at the opening of the article. [21]

This definition appears on its page on Wikipedia and is a fair representation of news style as recognised in journalism texts [22]. The 2014 Sydney hostage crisis page clearly conforms: the lead sentence contains who, what, when, and where, is written in past tense and the information is presented according to an inverted pyramid structure. At the point the current event template was removed the lead looked like this:

On 15–16 December 2014, a lone gunman identified by police as Man Haron Monis took 17 hostages in a Lindt chocolate café located at Martin Place in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Hostages included Lindt employees as well as customers. After a 16–hour standoff with the police, the crisis ended with the deaths of the gunman and two hostages as police tactical operators stormed the café. [23]

This news style persists long after the event ceased to be news. In October 2018 the Wikipedia page still adheres to news style conventions of inverted pyramid and a lead sentence covering who, what, when, and where.




As part of Wikipedia’s commitment to transparency, each topic page maintains a database of its creation providing post hoc evidence of its creation. Every edit and intervention is recorded, time-stamped and attributed under View History. Contributors are identified by their Wikipedia name or Internet Protocol (IP) address. Information about the 271 contributors to the 2014 Wikipedia page, was scraped on 16 September 2016, at 3.55 pm (UTC). Bots were identified and the geolocation of 132 IP addresses established. Of the 139 listed by their Wikipedia names, 71 revealed their location on their User pages; 23 offered enough information that it could be reasonably inferred, and 45 were not able to be geolocated [24].

The ‘Talk’ tab for each topic page reveals a chat forum where contributors discuss, argue and wrestle with meaning as they collectively negotiate the narrative. This provides ethnographic data on the collaborative process and the sensemaking as the event unfolded. It also reveals points of tension — political, socio-cultural, and editorial — as well as the singularity of Wikipedia as a platform for knowledge construction.

The references, that is the published material required under Wikipedia’s verifiability rules, are provided as hyperlinks at the bottom. For this research these have been analysed at specific dates, showing the evolution of sources from the siege as a breaking news event through to its current iteration as a historic event.

Finally, the author interviewed WWGB, a retired educator from Sydney.



Inside the Wikipedia ‘newsroom’

As part of their Hierarchies of Influence model, Shoemaker and Reese identify routine practices developed by journalists in response to common situations: ‘those patterned, repeated practices, forms, and rules that media workers use to do their jobs’. Routines represent a set of constraints and form the immediate context for these individuals to do their jobs [25]. Although not journalists, these same journalistic practices have evolved among contributors in the Wikipedia ‘newsroom’. While Wikipedia started with the intention of a non-hierarchical model, where every contributor was equal, and anyone could edit, this proved unwieldly due to the inevitability of vandalism and a hierarchy emerged. The ‘Talk’ pages make this hierarchy visible and show how the work of news shaping, that is constructing a narrative and choosing the frames, was done. In particular they show just how closely the behaviour of non-journalists resembles that of a professional newsroom.

Many discussions mirror those that would have been taking place across the world in media organisations preparing to publish or broadcast, such as: editorial discussions about what should go in the lead; whether to include the backlash to the Islamic community on this page or start a new one; discursive discussions, e.g.: use of the word ‘siege’: one editor pointed out, the police were laying siege, not Man Monis, who was taking hostages; and socio-political discussions, such as how to portray the gunman — Islamic terrorist, criminal or lone wolf? Should it be labelled an ISIS attack?

I would argue that this clearly links this to being a lone wolf, but possibly by only a sympathiser [Contrib 1] [26]

That confirms nothing except that the perpetrator wanted the event to be perceived as an attack connected with an radical Islamist group, perhaps ... History is rife with examples of criminals and mentally ill people (arguably, Haron was both) attention-seeking by claiming connection with a larger movement. [Contrib 2]

... And that DIFFERS from other ISIS/ISIL Terrorist Attacks, How? Unlike organisations like Al Qaeda and others which are well organised in planning attacks, ISIS/ISIL is an organisation that encourages LONE WOLF attacks by INDIVIDUALS. [Contrib 3]

... what “links” are you expecting to ISIS? A membership card? This individual has recently converted to become a Sunni Muslim and has himself declared this to be a ISIS Terrorist Attack. Are you arguing the person who performed the terrorist attack doesn’t have weight? [Contrib 4] [27]

In another discussion, a contributor questioned why Wikipedia should adhere to police requests for non-publication of the gunman’s demands. Two experienced editors argue that Wikipedia is part of the mass media and therefore subject to their ethics.

Is wikipedia really in the habit of bowing to state demands for nonpublication? ... [Contrib 1]

Everything at Wikipedia must be verifiable. If all reliable sources retract or withhold this information (as they should if they comply with police requests), we do not have verifiability, hence the information should be removed from WIkipedia. [Contrib 2]

... I’d contend that we also have a moral imperative to comply with these kind of requests made by the police forces of democratic states during crisis situations. Wikipedia is also part of the mass media. [Contrib 3] [28]

The discussion reveals a culture of immediacy, the same driver at the heart of all news production. Nikki Usher (2018) said that for journalists ‘immediate news is almost a compulsion’. Being first and fast — is in part because they are trying to prove their professional worth. The editors of Wikipedia are not employed, yet they share that same compulsion. WWGB explains that there is cachet in being first to start a page when an event of global significance occurs, such as a terrorist siege in downtown Sydney. But he explains the motivation of experienced Wikipedians as mostly ‘wanting to make sure that when something significant happens, we get it right.’ He remembers that a few hours into the siege a contributor added that witnesses were reporting hearing gunshots and referenced a South African Web site. WWGB removed it a few minutes later, saying ‘speculation from South Africa unhelpful, local media not reporting this’ (personal communication, 7 September 2017) [29]. Other discussions among editors showed uncertainty over Wikipedia’s own role as a news outlet.

Indeed, the media has commented on the fact that Wikipedia is a good place to go for information during a breaking event because we have so many editors monitoring many different news sources [Contrib 1]

[It is] Not a blog or news service [Contrib 2]

We’re not competing with news outlets to break the story [Contrib 3] [30]

Wikipedia may suffer from contradictory protocols, but breaking news is in its DNA. The year of its creation coincided with a major news event that directly affected its developing ontology. Nine months after Wikipedia launched, Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes. The September 11, 2001 attacks and their aftermath dominated all media for some time and Wikipedia pages were soon dedicated to it. Within four weeks of the attack Wikipedia had 100 separate pages covering it. Many of them were encyclopedic by nature — information about the flights, buildings, military, and economic responses. But more transitory information also appeared and had to be continually updated, such as lists of casualties and survivors, personal experiences, and details about how to donate blood, money, or provide other assistance. Keegan considers this the point when ‘boundary work’ was needed.

... the fallout of the September 11 memorial episode also motivated the development and adoption of policies which serves to explicitly demarcate the boundaries of Wikipedia’s encyclopedic identity as neither a news source nor a memorial site. [31]

The bulk of material was moved to a new site, The September 11 Memorial Wiki, and editors created policies for breaking news. In January 2002, it changed the ‘Current Events and Breaking News’ section on Wikipedia’s opening page from a list of articles providing background about topics in the news to a list of news items. In November 2002, this became ‘In The News’ which is how it appears today. Initially, anyone could upload to the ‘front page’, but repeated vandalism made that unworkable so a template was created accessible only to users with administrative privileges. This evolution of Wikipedia’s home page to a news orientation created a ‘front page’ featuring items of temporality, written in news style, overseen by senior editors. Infoboxes are another newspaper convention adopted by Wikipedia over time as an efficient means to communicate the core elements of a story, quickly and efficiently. WWGB remarked:

The infobox and the lead should answer the questions of most casual readers ... It’s like journalism, the first few paragraphs should be punchy and tell the whole story ... their questions should be answered in those first few paragraphs. (WWGB personal comments)



How the page evolved

At the point that Wikipedia removed the current event template, the organisations referenced were an eclectic mix of local and international news media, with a handful of non-mainstream media such as Twitter and media releases (Table 1).


Table 1: References as recorded at 11.20 am Sydney time on 16 December 2014, before the Current Event template was removed [32].
Local news mediaInternational news mediaNon-mainstream media
ABC (13)BBC World (2)Sydney police press release
Sydney Morning Herald (7)Los Angeles (2)Fox NewsGoogle books: A Quietest Jihadi
9news (2)Cityam (London)
Yahoo (2)Huffington PostNSW police force media release
Business Insider (2)Telegraph (UK)NSW police on Twitter
SBS (2)New York TimesState library on Twitter
Australia’s GuardianWashington PostBritish Prime Minister on Twitter
The AgeStraits Times SingaporeCanadian Foreign Minister on Twitter
Perth NowITV London News 
Radio NationalNew Delhi TV 
Sky TVTimes of India 
The AustralianJerusalem Post 
Sunshine Coast DailyBangkok Post 
Gympie TimesTime 
 Globe and Mail 


This reflects the internationalisation of the page’s construction. It does not necessarily indicate contributors’ geographical location and personal news consumption, though it may, but more likely it reflects the shifting relationship between their geolocation and particular news sites according to the algorithms of Google or other search engines. Ford (2017) explains that in practise contributors watch breaking news events unfold live on TV, or on social media, then search online for published reports to use as references that meet Wikipedia’s verifiability criteria. This would explain the diverse nature of the news sources that range from the local; two newspapers in the northern state of Queensland, Gympie Times (circulation about 5,600) and Sunshine Coast Daily (circulation about 11,880); to the international such as Fox News, Jerusalem Post, and Times of India.

The Talk archives also provide insights into source selection. More experienced editors query the ‘reliability’ of Huffington Post and discourage referencing the national newspaper The Australian because it sits behind a paywall [33]. There is trouble linking to the NSW Police Youtube channel because of a spam filter.

The international perspective shows up in some oddly extraneous facts. For example, a Canadian contributor included the reaction of his Prime Minister. Others queried the relevance and it became the topic of an editing war [34]. Cultural differences also are evident. An Australian user queried the use of the slang word ‘perp’ but was overruled by an editor from Ohio. Australian laws were questioned.

Can we please have more information about the Australian justice system in this article? I am confused as to how someone who was an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, who was stabbed 18 times and set on fire, could be walking the streets. [Contrib 1]

Out of scope for this article. Suggest you take a look at Accessory (legal term) and the references attached to Man Haron Monis. [Contrib 2]

I strongly disagree. How this man could be walking the streets of Sydney with his massive criminal history of violent, murderous crime, is indeed, within the scope of this article, and entirely relevant. [Contrib 1]

It is unimaginable to normal people that a man who was connected to the stabbing and burning of his ex-wife should be allowed to walk the streets ... the information is topical and relevant ... Tony Abbott just went on television to say that the man was well-known by the intelligence agencies and that he had a long history of violent crime. Naturally, the reader must ask, why was he free to walk the streets? The circumstances involving the Australian justice system, therefore, are entirely relevant and important for the reader to understand. [Contrib 1] [35]

The page also carries local information, such as road closures.

Please wikilink the Western Distributor and Sydney Harbour Bridge articles in the article’s text, where it’s talking about the road closures. [36]

WWGB explains: ‘The fact that the roads were closed wouldn’t need to be part of the historical record, so we left it there for a while because it is a community service but once that’s over and done with, we would get it out of there. I think that is part of this unfolding story. It starts off as a breaking news, community service’ (personal communication, 7 September 2017). This hyper-localism reflects the news sensibilities of public service media.



One month later

On 28 January 2015, a month after the siege ended, but the day before the inquest started, the page looks very different. It still leads with who, what, when, where, and is written with an inverted pyramid structure, but the article provides an overview, as well as summaries of the public debates.

On 15–16 December 2014, a lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, held hostage ten customers and eight employees of a Lindt chocolate café located at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia. Police treated the event as a terrorist attack, and negotiated with Monis throughout the day.

After a 16–hour standoff, during which areas of the Sydney central business district surrounding the site were cordoned off and nearby buildings locked down, police officers from the Tactical Operations Unit stormed the café upon hearing gunshots from inside. At least one hostage was shot by Monis, who himself was shot dead after police entered in response. Hostages Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson died, while three other hostages and a police officer were injured during the police raid.

The number of sources has grown from 72 to 172 and they are more wide-ranging, but still heavily reliant on the news media, with extensive international media (Table 2).


Table 2: References for 2014 Sydney hostage crisis page as recorded at 28 January 2015 [37].
Local news mediaInternational news mediaNon-mainstream media
Sydney Morning Herald (44)International Business Times (3)NSW police press release (3)
The Age (8)Washington Post (2)PDF of memorial sermon for two hostages who died
Canberra Times (2)Financial Times (2)Prime Minister of Australia media office
ABC (30)Los Angeles Times (2)The White House, Office of President Barack Obama
Australia’s Guardian (6)The Telegraph (UK) (2)NSW Police on Twitter
The Australian (6)BBC News (2)NSW Police on YouTube
The Conversation (4)Fox NewsState library on Twitter (4)New York TimesCanada’s Foreign Minister on Twitter
Business Insider Australia (3)The EconomistCanada’s Prime Minister on Twitter
9 News (2)Cityam (London)Malaysia’s Prime Minister on Twitter
Daily Telegraph (2)The IndependentBritish Prime Minister on Twitter
Yahoo 7 News (2)CBS NewsBeyond Blue
SBS News (2)
Brisbane TimesThe Straits TimesAhmadiyya Muslim Association Australia
Australian Financial ReviewITV NewsCoroner’s Court of NSW
Sky NewsNBC NewsAustralian Government: Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation
Sunshine Coast DailyBangkok Post 
 Daily News Egypt 
 Jewish Press 
 Jerusalem Post 
 Globe and Mail 
 Islamic Republic News Agency 
 Iranian Students News Agency 
 Times of India 
 The Inquisitr (Florida, U.S.) 
 Andalous Agency (Turkey) 




Nearly three years later

On 25 September 2017, nearly three years after the siege, and following an extensive inquest, which uncovered what transpired inside the café in forensic detail, the writing is more recognisably encyclopedic. It provides both an overview and specificity, presented with an updated who, what, where, when, news lead.

The 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, also known as the Sydney siege and Lindt Cafe siege, occurred on 15–16 December 2014 when a lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, held hostage ten customers and eight employees of a Lindt chocolate café located at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia. Police treated the event as a terrorist attack at the time but Monis’ motives have subsequently been debated. [38]

The number of sources has swelled to 242 but they are more wide-ranging again, with significant additions (emphasised in bold in Table 3) that go beyond news media to include government publications, an academic paper on negotiating with terrorists and two soundcloud links for music written as memorials.


Table 3: 12 am Sydney time on 25 September 2017 [39].
Local news mediaInternational news mediaNon-news media
Sydney Morning Herald (63)International Business Times (2)NSW police press release
The Age (8)Washington Post (2)PDF of memorial sermon for two hostages
Canberra Times (2)The Telegraph (UK) (2)Prime Minister of Australia media office
ABC (37)BBC News (2)The White House, Office of President Barack Obama
Daily Telegraph (16)Financial TimesNSW Police on Twitter
Australia’s Guardian (15)Los Angeles TimesNSW Police on YouTube (14)Fox NewsState library on Twitter
The Australia (13)New York TimesCanada’s Foreign Minister on Twitter
The Conversation (4)The EconomistCanada’s Prime Minister on Twitter
Business Insider Australia (2)Cityam (London)Malaysia’s Prime Minister on Twitter
Yahoo 7 News (3)The IndependentBritish Prime Minister on Twitter
9 News (2)CBS NewsBeyond Blue
SBS News (2)
Australian Financial Review (2)The Straits TimesAhmadiyya Muslim Association Australia
Brisbane TimesITV NewsCoroner’s Court of NSW
Sky NewsNBC NewsAustralian Government: Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation
Sunshine Coast DailyBangkok PostJoint Commonwealth and NSW Review (3)
Courier MailTimeWorld socialist Web site
Daily MailDaily News EgyptM. Vecchi, et al. (2005). Crisis hostage negotiation current strategies, Aggression and Violent Behaviour
LimelightJerusalem PostSofrep: Trusted news & intelligence from Spec Ops veterans
 Globe and MailAustralian Government
 Islamic Republic News AgencyBulletin of Law Society South Australia
 Iranian Students News AgencySoundCloud of Queensland Symphony Orchestra
 Times of IndiaSoundCloud of Lyle Chan
 The Inquisitr (Florida, U.S.)Lyle Chan Web page about music
 Andalous Agency (Turkey) 


The origins of the page are still evident, with online news media the predominant reference. Local news media Sydney Morning Herald and government broadcaster ABC, have grown considerably. The Gympie Times didn’t survive but the Sunshine Coast Daily did, along with the Global Mail from Canada and tweets from both Canada’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, along with international newspapers Jerusalem Post and Times of India. If the page were created today, I suggest it would be unlikely to reference those sources or be structured in the same way. The page in February 2018 carries the traces of its origins as a site for breaking news. According to Shoemaker and Reese: ‘[N]ews workers see some things as news and not others. Through their routines they actively construct reality’ [40]. The ‘reality’ of the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis — presented by Wikipedia now as an historic event — was constructed through negotiation by international contributors working collaboratively under an established hierarchy, according to routines of practice. It also demonstrates the continuing significance of news media in the construction and cultural representations that transform modern events into historical records.




The 2014 Sydney hostage crisis page demonstrates Wikipedia’s news practices. When a big international story breaks, contributors start a page, followed soon after by more experienced editors who assume the roles of overseers, checking that all statements have been verified; excluding disreputable sources; negotiating sensitive issues such as cultural framing; explaining their decisions and policies in the Talk pages; and, reining in newcomers with an agenda. Despite its ad hoc nature, Wikipedia has evolved a system of checks and balances that resembles a newsroom.

However, the labour performed by these contributors sits outside what would be recognised as professional practice. They don’t undertake the core role of journalists, which is to produce new work. Two of Wales’ three pillars upon which Wikipedia was built — no original research and verifiability — prevents that. Instead the material must already have been published, and in what the editors consider to be reputable publications. This has a number of consequences — economic and professional. The journalistic labour that underpins a Wikipedia page has been funded by media organisations and appropriated without economic consideration. Further, the high traffic to the 2014 Sydney hostage siege page demonstrates that Wikipedia is a competitor to media organisations, adding further economic penalty. In terms of professionalism, the contributors don’t answer to journalism codes of ethics and the hierarchy that has formed is based on seniority and meritocracy, where editors gain administrative privileges according to the culture of Wikipedia. The fact that the editors on the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis page demonstrated skill and cultural sensitivity is heartening, but not conclusive. However, just as the page carries the traces of its breaking news origins, so does the material that is repurposed carry the inherent professionalism of the journalists whose original work has been appropriated.

Wikipedia was the first online site with a user-friendly interface that enabled virtual collaboration on knowledge creation. Over the decades since, through trial and error and negotiation, the community has adopted a form for presenting information that is readily recognisable as employing news conventions such as the In The News section featured on the landing page; the information boxes essentializing the article; and, the inverted pyramid with their who, what, when, where, leads. This demonstrates the ongoing versatility of news writing style as an efficient form of communication that extends beyond legacy newspapers, where it originated, and into new forms as they emerge on the Internet.

Wikipedia is not journalism, but in multiple ways it is journalistic. The anyone-can-edit ethos has morphed into an editorial hierarchy and the work practices have come to resemble that of a newsroom. The affordances of its online platform allow it to publish news as an ongoing narrative that isn’t beholden to such past orthodoxies as having an ending. As a hybrid media system, embracing the ontology of both encyclopedias and newspapers, it collapses temporality and distinctions of news as a category, while also reinforcing the significant influence of that first draft of history in creating enduring narratives. End of article


About the author

Dr. Bunty Avieson is a lecturer in journalism in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. Her research interests include Wikipedia, journalism, literary journalism and the media in Bhutan.
E-mail: bunty [dot] avieson [at] sydney [dot] edu [dot] au



The author would like to thank data scientist Dr. Chao Sun, of the University of Sydney, for his work scraping and processing data from Wikipedia for this project, and the School of Literature, Art and Media at University of Sydney for funding this research.



1. Ferron and Massa, 2011, p. 1,329.

2. Ibid.


4. Tkacz, 2015, pp. 6–7.

5. Tkacz, 2015, p. 49.

6. Chalaby, 1998, p. 130.

7. This phrase is generally attributed Washington Post President and Publisher Philip L. Graham, though Jack Shafer argues this is contested;

8. Chadwick, 2013, p. 4.

9. Talk page Archive 1, ‘2014 Sydney hostage crisis’, Wikipedia.




13. Shirky, 2008, p. 119.

14. Kildall and Stern, 2011, p. 83.

15. Carr, 2011, p. 197.



18. Chadwick, 2013, p. 4.


20. Underlining emphasis added; edited extract from


22. Alysen, et al., 2011, pp. 175–176; Randall, 2011, p. 169.


24. User pages offer a variety of biographical data. Sometimes where they live, other times it is possible to infer but sometimes difficult to categorise e.g.: an Australian man living in Japan. Further, it is possible that users conceal their geolocation, rerouting to avoid identification. While recognizing the indeterminacy of geolocation, this level of specificity is enough for the purposes of this study.

25. Shoemaker and Reese, 2014, p. 165.

26. While the Wikipedia names are listed in the Talk pages — and are themselves an alias — due to ethical considerations around their privacy this author has chosen to replace them with the non-specific identifier of Contrib 1, 2, etc.

27. Talk page Archive 1, ‘2014 Sydney hostage crisis’, Wikipedia, edited.

28. Edited Talk page, Archive 1, ‘2014 Sydney hostage crisis’, Wikipedia.


30. Edited Talk page, Archive 1, ‘2014 Sydney hostage crisis’, Wikipedia.

31. Keegan, 2012b, pp. 88–89.


33. Both Huffington Post and The Australian eventually did appear in the references.

34. The 24 September 2017, edition of the page, includes the Canadian PM’s response.

35. Talk page Archive 1, ‘2014 Sydney hostage crisis’, Wikipedia.

36. Ibid.




40. Shoemaker and Reese, 2014, p. 182.



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Editorial history

Received 30 October 2018; accepted 12 March 2019.

Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Breaking news on Wikipedia: Collaborating, collating and competing
by Bunty Avieson.
First Monday, Volume 24, Number 5 - 6 May 2019

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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