Just a week removed from our stories on how technology is changing the nature of journalism and the Pioneer Press goes all Web 2.0.

The change couldn’t have come sooner. Knight Ridder’s web properties have long been extremely painful to use because they all share the same system and the system was designed poorly from the beginning. As a member of the Knight Ridder chain, the Pioneer Press‘ Internet presence suffered accordingly. We can’t tell you how often we’ve heard people say they’d given up on the Pioneer Press web site because it was too difficult to use. That, thankfully, changed last week when the paper launched their redesign. (See the Kansas City Star for the design the Pioneer Press used previously.)

The front page uses Flash technology to rotate the latest top stories. The top navigation bar separates the sections of the newspaper into tabs with sub-sections directly below the section tab. The default front page tab is Home which, notably, includes a link to the paper’s RSS feeds and a link to the site’s discussion boards, two features that were buried in the previous design. The prominence of the RSS feeds shows the paper’s concession to the new reality that people want their news and information on their own terms. The prominence of a link to the discussion boards is a nod to the fact that debate and give and take with readers is a feature of the new journalism.

The Pioneer Press‘ online publishing cycle used to occur once a day, about 3 a.m., for stories published in that morning’s paper. That cycle is history; the timestamps for individual stories show that the paper publishes stories
online throughout the day.

A hallmark of Web 2.0 technologies is giving people the ability to share content. As such, individual PiPress stories include links to popular social bookmarking services like del.icio.us, Yahoo’s MyWeb, and Google Bookmarks as well as social editing sites like digg and reddit.

Most significantly, however, is the adoption of the blog culture by including a form at the end of each story that allows readers to post their own thoughts about the piece. That turns journalism into a more cooperative effort.

Much of the theory behind the Web 2.0 technologies that connect people via the Internet and allow them to
communicate is the notion of the Wisdom of Crowds. The Wisdom of Crowds reasons that when you have a critical mass of people that are allowed to communicate, you are more likely to arrive at the truth.

For example, in the case of social bookmarking services where users can apply tags, or keywords, to their bookmarks that are available to the entire community, a critical mass of people are more likely to discover the most relevant labels for a given piece of content. In the case of blogs, a critical mass of people commenting on a given story are more likely to arrive at the truth of the topic of the article than an individual journalist possibly could.

Many journalists dismiss blogs as simply the pilot fish of journalism: Those who feed off the facts that reporters ferret out.

There’s much truth to that in that very few blogs break news. Perhaps the first real blogger, Matt Drudge, was known for “reporting” on stories that real journalists were at work on but had not yet published. His “breaking news” was that journalist X was working on a story about Y. Most people who blog about the news are commenting on stories that have already been published in the mainstream media.

But dismissing blogs in such a fashion ignores the value the best of them add to journalism. The most obvious example is Powerline‘s “outing” of Dan Rather‘s phony Bush documents.

By opening up their stories to immediate comment from their readers, the Pioneer Press is implicitly tapping that wisdom of crowds. The comment feature allows people who may have more expertise than the journalist on a given topic to be able to correct, add to, or better illuminate the topic of the story. The Pioneer Press is taking a risk by allowing people to immediately criticize them when they make the inevitable mistakes any news organization will make, but in the end they will hold themselves to greater account and, as a result, build more trust between their readers.

We welcome the development and will watch with fascination as it unfolds.