How are Wikipedia’s breaking news collaborations different?

When breaking news events like natural disasters happen, where do you go for information? Once upon a time, professional journalists were responsible for gathering information and sharing it with an audience. These days, however, long and detailed Wikipedia articles about these events are often written within hours of the event itself by Wikipedia editors, the vast majority of whom are not journalists. How are these breaking news collaborations different from more traditional Wikipedia article collaborations? And how have these breaking news collaborations on Wikipedia changed over time?

We examined the collaboration networks of 114,153 unique users making contributions to 3,233 Wikipedia articles about natural disasters, conflicts, crimes, and industrial and transportation accidents. Whereas a social network like Facebook is a set of people and the friendship relationships between them, a collaboration network on Wikipedia is a set of articles and the people who have made an edit to them.

We find overall that more popular articles have more prolific editors. For articles with many editors, these contributors tend to edit many other articles; articles with few editors are edited by less active users. This pattern has intensified over time.


For all the breaking news articles in a year, the x-axis is the number of editors these articles have (degree) and the y-axis is the number of other articles its editors contribute to (assortativity).

To answer the question of whether these breaking news article collaborations are different from traditional Wikipedia article collaborations, we look at how quickly editors organize themselves into well-connected collaborations. Imagine you’re throwing a party: you need lots of people to leave what they were doing before and come together in one place around the same time. We examined an analogous process of how long it took all these breaking news articles and the editors who contribute to them to form what network scientists call a “giant component” — the “party” where everyone is in the same place and can interact directly or indirectly with everyone else.


Articles about breaking news events are in red, articles about recent but non-breaking news events are in blue, and articles about historical events are in green. The x-axis is time and the y-axis is the number of articles in the giant component.

Our results show that 90% of breaking news articles are indirectly connected to other breaking news articles through a shared editor within 24 hours of their creation. Moreover, for Wikipedia articles about recent but non-breaking events (in blue) and articles about historical events (in green), these non-breaking articles take over a year to form a giant component. To return to the party analogy, it only take 24 hours of notice for the party to form for breaking news articles but it takes over a year of notice for the party to form for other types of Wikipedia articles. This suggests that while there may not be professional journalists editing Wikipedia articles about breaking news events, there are editors who specialize in editing these events and they are the glue that ties these articles together.

For more, see our full paper, Hot off the Wiki: Structures and Dynamics of Wikipedia’s Coverage of Breaking News Events.

Brian Keegan, Northeastern University
Darren Gergle, Northwestern University
Noshir Contractor, Northwestern University