Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wikis and Journalism

Journalism relies on collaboration to build trust. If these words were simply typed on my computer and posted to this page, how much would you trust them? Most readers trust the journalism they read in newspapers, see on TV or check out online because they assume there are editors, fact-checkers and some unseen apparatus making sure everything is correct. And the sources journalists rely on also play a key role in determining authority.Weblogs turned that notion on its head by gaining trust through a community of readers, commenters and links to source material. And now comes wide-open wikis, Web pages that are easily edited, changed or erased by a public or private group of people. At first blush, most journalists would consider this idea heretical to journalistic integrity. If anyone can change the page at any time, how can you trust it? But consider the Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia with hundreds of thousands of entries created by thousands of people since just January 2001. Originally, it was supposed to be a trusted encyclopedia called Nupedia written only by people with PhD's. Wikipedia was an adjunct project that eventually became the main event, a sprawling public site that covers everything from Bayesian probability to cultural imperialism -- with versions in dozens of languages.For journalists enthralled by Wikipedia, there's still one drawback: lack of accountability. The Boston Globe's Hiawatha Bray recently spelled out the problem in a story on Wikipedia. "Old-school reference books hire expert scholars to write their articles, and employ skilled editors to check and double-check their work," Bray wrote. "Wikipedia's articles are written by anyone who fancies himself an expert."

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