WikiTribune Shows the News Media & Wikipedia Are Both Broken

The Dark Knight

Jimmy has of course used the media to lead a campaign for Wikitribune to ensure anyone directly connected to a Wikipedia article does not edit it themselves, in the pursuit of neutrality. He asks that they post requests on the talk page, in the hope Wikipedians will act, if deemed appropriate. Whether it works is not exactly up for debate, in critic circles at least.

Wikipedia works in theory, not in practice... and how it covered the new kid on the block, its brother from another mother, WikiTribune, just proved it.

It is fundamental to Wikipedia principles that...

  1. Wikipedia articles should be neutral, presenting the entire spectrum of views as registered in reliable sources in proportion to their incidence in the overall mix of coverage,
  2. Wikipedia isn't a place where organizations can effectively receive free advertising through the hosting of one sided articles whose content is (ultimately) sourced almost exclusively to press releases from the organization and interviews with their promoters.

Off the back of the huge interest in this new venture in independent reliable sources, a Wikipedia article for WikiTribune has existed for a day and a half now (condition as I found it linked below), which is an eon in digital promotion terms. And yet none of the many Wikipedians who have edited it, and even debated if it should exist (not for very long), have thought to include a word, not a single word, of skeptical or critical content, from those sources.

en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikitribune&oldid=777293127

And it does exist. I found two news articles with a pretty skeptical slant with some ease, so no doubt others will also be out there, and elements of skepticism will have also found their way into many other articles which take a more equivocal position.

Why the Odds Are Stacked against the Jimmy Wales Journalism Project:

The Problem with WikiTribune:

Despite it being their long standing practice, Wikipedia hasn't even tagged the article with a notice warning readers it doesn't currently comply with their basic standards. This of course may have something to do with the fact the article's talk page is entirely devoid of any sign anyone has even noticed there might be a problem with its neutrality, and only one section complaining about promotional intent. And that only concerns tone/word choice of the press release derived information, not the lack of skeptical or independent content. Tellingly, it took a newbie to note even that.

Naturally, a glowing Wikipedia article is a hugely attractive prospect for anyone wishing to promote their wares, not that Jimmy Wales would do such a thing. Nevertheless, as I write, on my device, a Google search for "WikiTribune" already returns the Wikipedia article as the top result, above even its official site, and only then come the news stories about its launch. It has most likely been this way since just after it was created, as any Wikipedia editor could tell you.

Jimmy has of course used the media to lead a campaign to ensure anyone directly connected to a Wikipedia article does not edit it themselves, in the pursuit of neutrality. He asks that they post requests on the talk page, in the hope Wikipedians will act, if deemed appropriate. Whether it works is not exactly up for debate, in critic circles at least. But he believes in it. It is disappointing then, that even Jimmy appears unwilling to post a suggestion that maybe it's not in the best interests of Wikipedia's reputation to be so lax about following their core principles in this high profile case, which is rife with potential conflicts of interest, and suggest at least some skepticism be included. Maybe he's just been too busy. Yes, that will be it.

Of course, eventually the article will be developed to be more neutral (although how close to perfect is anyone's guess), but by then it will be too late, as the vast majority of people who came to Wikipedia to read this article, will have done so already, and then moved on, newly 'informed' by the 'world's greatest' encyclopedia. Some of them no doubt using what they found there to make decisions on whether or not they should stump up the requested $15 a month to get WikiTribune off the ground.

The Wikipedians who come to edit it later, to eventually ensure compliance, or something approximating it, are essentially only doing it for their own self satisfaction. They'd be loathe to admit it, as it rather undercuts the perceived value to the world of their chosen hobby. But if they examined the page view stats they would see this is the cold hard reality. See for yourself...

tools.wmflabs.org/pageviews/?pages=Wikitribune&project=en.wikipedia.org

The same cycle will be repeated after each new round of publicity, with subsequent readers attracted by new news coming to the article and only finding skepticism which doesn't factor in whatever has just been released and which no doubt promises a whole raft of new things to WikiTribune's supporters and readers. Naturally, such skepticism is easily dismissed in the reader's mind when it is perceived as being old news.

Consult any of Wikipedia's posted rules and any of the past pronouncements of its supporters, notably Jimmy Wales himself, and you will see that Wikipedia is not supposed to be this way. Their 5 disclaimers set you straight of course, but who has ever read them before? Here they are, btw...

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Disclaimer

The reality is, Wikipedia's much trumpeted instant editing and fast revision model cannot stop it being this way. Whether it is intentional, or whether it happens because the vast majority of Wikipedians are clueless idiots (useful idiots?), isn't really relevant. All that matters is that the product doesn't meet customer expectations or even their own description of what it is supposed to be.

And how successful Wikipedia as a product is, objectively speaking, matters. Because as you will see even from the skeptical pieces, the general opinion of the media is that if anyone can make a volunteer news site work, it is Jimmy, and that view is based on their perception he has had 'success' at making Wikipedia 'work'.

Their perception is wrong, and this is ironically because the traditional media is horrendously ignorant of how Wikipedia really works, as well as of course, how it is supposed to work. They happily trash it for its well understood flaws, notably its inability to keep out obvious errors due to vandalism and such like. And that is where they seem content to stop.

Can Jimmy's new paradigm fix how the news media works? Can it ensure they pay closer attention to what really matters in this digital Century?

Seems pointless to even ask...

This article was originally posted on (the new) _Wikipedia Review, reposted with permission._