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?