Citizen journalism is set to be a major force in online news and traditional news organisations should start listening, says founder of fledging open news project Wikinews.

Erik Moeller, journalist and open source software advocate, has ambitious expectations for Wikinews.

"I would compare its current state to the first days of the open source Linux operating system, which has been created by volunteer programmers from around the world," Mr Moeller told dotJournalism.

"Back in 1991 and 1992, it was mostly something for hobbyists and other interested people to play with. Today it powers the world's largest supercomputers, it runs Google, it supports a gigantic portion of the world's webservers, and it is increasingly adopted by corporations and governments as an alternative to Windows."

Wiki, a Hawaiian word meaning 'quick', is a open publishing web format where anyone can post and edit content. The largest wiki site is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia of more than 420,000 articles built by a network of 6,000 contributors.

Wikinews is part of the same site but allows users to post and edit news stories. Since the site was officially launched in early December, 770 users have registered to contribute to the project.

Critical of the centralised power of large global news agencies such as AP and Reuters, Mr Moeller believes that with financial support from readers, contributors could do first-hand reporting. Regular writers could be formally recognised as journalists, just as bloggers were during the recent US presidential elections, allowing Wikinews to compete with traditional news media.

"Good reporting costs money - money for travel and communications, for obtaining documents and other source materials - and good reporting is hard work," he said.

"The next revolution I want to see is therefore a revolution of funding: paying for citizen journalism through distributed donations made by hundreds of people who share a passion for truth, honesty and openness."

Mr Moeller expects Wikinews to transform rapidly, despite inevitable criticism from established organisations that view the internet as a platform for rumours and inaccurate journalism.

But, as with the Wikipedia community, Mr Moeller believes Wikinews will learn from its mistakes and its credibility will develop. He also reckons new developments such as RSS feeds and a good system for feedback will help the site to take off.

"Right now we're somewhat out of the loop, a stranger in a strange land," said Mr Moeller.

"We need to become part of this nascent new media world and inspire those who are already a part of it to contribute."

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