Wikis And Reporters: Like Oil And Water

from the don't-mix dept

Apparently, wikis and many newspaper writers just don’t mix. You may recall my run-in last year with a Syracuse newspaper writer who appeared to misunderstand Wikipedia. In an ensuing email conversation with the reporter he told me that Wikipedia was outrageous, repugnant and dangerous. His favorite point, which he brought up repeatedly was that if I supported Wikipedia, then, obviously, I’d want my brain surgery to be done by a committee of random people rather than a brain surgeon — ignoring, of course, the point that non-experts in brain surgery probably wouldn’t want to dig into my brain (one hopes), and that assuming there were brain surgeons in the crowd, it would quickly become clear that they had the expertise, and would be able to override the non-brain surgeons. Also, of course, just because you support Wikipedia as an information source, it doesn’t mean you support collaborative brain surgery. Apparently, though, Wikipedia hating newspaper writers love the brain surgery analogy, because the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning Stacy Schiff uses the same analogy in trashing wikis. Specifically, she’s responding to the LA Times idea of making editorials into a wiki — which we agree is a bad idea all around, but for very different reasons. Ernest Miller does a good job picking apart most of Schiff’s reasons (including the brain surgery mis-analogy), but the biggest issue is that Schiff doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that editorials are opinions — not facts. The whole basis of her column is that these wikitorials will let people play fast and loose with the facts. Except, of course, editorials aren’t about facts, so it’s hard to see how that argument applies at all. She also uses the oh-so-popular single-source anonymous anecdotal story to support her position that kids believe everything they read on Wikipedia, despite the disclaimer. So, where’s the disclaimer on Schiff’s piece saying that she might have misunderstood the point of wikis? Or that her asking a single random un-named teen might not really be representative of how people feel? How can we fix her mistakes? What if people read her piece and believe it’s accurate? Isn’t it great that the NY Times wants us to pay for this sort of commentary going forward?

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Comments on “Wikis And Reporters: Like Oil And Water”

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anonymous facts are opinions assumed true says:

No Subject Given

both this post and corante seem to blur the distinction that editorial pages are not being relied on by the majority of users for facts, whereas wikipedia is.

Similarly, google results are being relied on to return only relevant. So most users ASSUME that the results are both relevant and that anything not returned is irrelevant. Both are incorrect assumptions that the majority of users are making and are actively encouraged to make.

Dr. Drop says:

Why I don't like Wikipedia

I will give you a very good reason to dislike Wikipedia: People with opposing views can modify the article in question. Whoever makes the most edits (i.e. is willing to fight the longest) will get thier point across. Either that, or the article gets completely mushed into something that portrays neither side properly.

For example, go read the article on Adolph Hitler. The article does not state that he was evil, that he was responsible for the murders of millions of people and was bent on world domination.

The article actually states that he is “one of the most influential leaders of all time”.

That is like saying that the black plague was one of the most influential diseases of all time.

Anyway, I do like it for non-controversial facts like city populations.

But then again there is always some wikipedia addicted dork waiting to change the articles back to their original state…grab a life you losers…I was actually born in that town, and know the population!

Ben Yates (user link) says:

Re: Why I don't like Wikipedia

“The article does not state that he was evil, that he was responsible for the murders of millions of people and was bent on world domination.”
Sure, but no encyclopedia would use that language. Hitler’s story speaks for itself, and anyone who isn’t crazy will draw the conclusions that you did.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Why I don't like Wikipedia

that only makes sense if the person looking for information already knows the information he is looking for and can then discount the wiki information as wrong.

In other words, wiki aggregates misinformation, but in no consistent, verifiable or usable way. So anyone who relies on it for anything other than entertainment is guaranteed to be misled.

Andrew Marshall (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why I don't like Wikipedia

Isn’t there some responsibility on the reader to filter fiction from fact? Surely, then, an information source cannot be entirely discredited because it fails to be 100% accurate.

If I want to learn how to parachute and go to wiki to get information, then due to some typo or fleeting vandalism I find myself falling with a failed parachute, then I’m an idiot. If I go to the wiki parachuting page and orient myself with the jargon, design issues, FAQ’s, etc., then I’m much more equipped to go and get more information elsewhere.

I think the issue of wiki reliability is interesting, but cannot see any sense in entirely disregarding it on the grounds of possible inaccuracy. If you have irresponsible readers, in fact, then any information can be dangerous and misleading.

Anonymous of Course says:

It's not the wiki...

This article should be subtitled [Imagine! A bunch of ignorant peasants usurping the mighty power of the fourth estate! They’re not trained journalist. You can’t trust them to see things in the proper light.] It’s the real reason some reporters hate wikipedia, blogs… they cultivate an enormous disdain for the unwashed masses. Talking heads and slovenly scribblers who know their days are fading fast.

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