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October 28, 2004


Andrew Lih

Rebecca, very well put. I've been involved with the discussions about Wikinews from the very beginning, and I admire the spirit of the project and the person who initiated it, Erik Moeller.

However, if "neutral" is elusive in the Wikipedia format, which is highly structured, narrowly defined and without a deadline, then doing a "news" product is nearly impossible. I agree, it is best pursued on a macro level by allowing anyone to sign up to be involved in the team, and not chasing after a mythical idea of being neutral in every article.

Instead, we should look to other successes. I think there is excellent "reporting" done in places like the DailyKOS Diaries, where people stream in dispatches and discoveries, and stories are rated up by members in a Darwinian form of peer review. (Interestingly, they have also started a dKosopedia, inspired by Wikipedia.) In the English language blogosphere, that is the closest to OhMyNews today in terms of an active, interrogative community of news hounds.

-Andrew Lih
University of Hong Kong


Rebecca, I was most interested by the arguments you gave.

I am personally opposed to WikiNews as currently proposed, for a whole set of arguments. Some of these absolutely rejoin your opinion, but I also found new insightful ideas in your post.

In particular the point dealing with "why would editors take care of breaking news" (which would incidently very likely imply that those be paid, which would change the voluntary principle).

I have many reasons to oppose right now. I think it will divide forces, in particular in projects with small communities (I only perceive english and german languages able to support yet another project).

Nearly 4 years of experience with NPOV show that time is an absolute requirement to reach neutrality. Time and multiple contributions. An article frozen after a week is not compatible with the way NPOV built. And as you mention, breaking news are such an exciting event, that it is required to hurry. Hence limited number of contributors and limited calm spirit.

Another point might greatly damage our image. Till now, our defense in front of copyright violations, diffaming accusations and other nice legal points, is to answer to the complainer that "he can edit the article now", or that "the image will be immediately removed". This wont be possible with a frozen article.

In the current proposal, the article may be edited by many, but will have to be "approved" by an editorial commitee, which very likely, will be a limited number of informed people. The less numerous the "approvers" are, the more risk there is of bias.

And finally, the "approved" editor allowing the article to be published will be put very much in the light, will possibly become famous, even though he might not have written a word of the article. It seems this could develop a feeling of two classes of editors, the "famous one", and those invisible doing the work. I believe this to be possibly very hurting for the community and very contrary to our principles of openness, equality and dialog between contributors.

A point I also fear is that journalists are mostly those who help the project (Wikipedia) to become well known.

Walking on the toes of press people is not likely to gain us friends. I would prefer that more journalists are part of such a project, so that we gain better insight of what will be best.

As such, your suggestions at the bottom of your comment are very interesting to me.


Samuel Klein

Your suggestions are great. #1 sounds like a novel use of parallel reporting power, and #2 (for better of worse) covers what most of the initial reporting is likely to be. But if you're still thinking in terms of 'angles' on stories, you are missing one of the strengths of this particular wiki tradition. What wikinews should be able to do better than any other news source, is provide a global perspective on what is important; contextualize all of the major angles on a story; and expose the revision process involved in newsmaking, highlighting the aspects of news reports that are hotly contested.

As for the aside about Middle Earth getting better coverage in the encyclopedia than most of Africa, that puts it a bit too strongly. I feel bad that the source of these claims is right here in my backyard, so I've tried to set things straight on my blog.
(In a nutshell: the encyclopedia's Middle-earth content is unusually comprehensive, and its Africa content imperfect, but there is still vastly more and better content about Africa.)

Many contributors to Wikipedia are not contributing in their area of expertise, but researching new things and filling article requests. They are guided in their contributions by the shared ideal of a perfect encyclopedia: neutral and comprehensive.

Likewise, the initial contributors to a Wikinews project will start with what they know best -- local news, and content from their personal point of view. As the number of contributors grows, however, the content will move away from being what any one contributor would write on his or her private blog, towards a shared ideal of the perfect news source. In this case, I hope that ideal would be "a neutral source offering a balanced perspective on news from all over the world, describing all of the major angles on each topic".

David Myers


Your "thoughts about Wikinews" are the most coherent I've seen yet (regarding Wikinews). As always, thanks for your thoughts!

My guess is that news reports generated collaboratively in this way will evolve to fill several news niches not adequately covered by other news organizations. Hyper-local news and perpetually-ignored topics, as you suggest, immediately come to mind (although editing and fact checking these kinds of stories may present problems).

You alluded to the desirability of some sort of disclosure that would cast light on the writer's potential biases. ("If a wikinews environmental reporter's aunt died of cancer from polluted ground water, I would like to know.") That is certainly a worthy goal. Perhaps the writer's profile--sort of a cross between an eBay-style ranking, brief bio and a link to "other stories by this author"--may suffice.

You also acknowledge that true objectivity is an almost-impossible achievement that professional journalists strive for anyway. Many years ago my brother was struck and killed by a car while he attempted to cross a road. That terrible event didn't turn me into an anti-car fanatic. But it may have given me the willingness to allow myself an expanded view on some of the negative consequences of our society's reliance on this form of transportation.

So if I were to report on a car wreck in my community that resulted in death or serious injury, would it be irresponsible of me to include in the story that 42,815 people were killed in auto accidents in 2002? (Source Car-Accidents.com.) If I were to do the math and point out that this works out to roughly 3568 automobile-related fatalities every month--more than the total fatalities caused by the 9/11 attacks--would that be going too far? And if I then connected the dots and reminded readers that our economy depends on access to an abundant supply of cheap energy, much of it used to fuel our transportation habits (hence our invasion of Iraq to secure that much-needed access), would that finally drive me off the cliff of responsible reporting?

Idle academic speculation is not my motivation here. My quarrel with how we've traditionally approached "objectivity" in journalism is that it seems, all-too-often, to leave us focused on the small picture, even if that image is connected to a much bigger reality begging for our attention. We all know how a vibrant Fourth Estate can inform and energize a community, and thus contribute fundamentally to a free and open society. With our democracy currently in tatters, nothing seems more urgent to me than re-thinking how we inform ourselves so that the information we get is more relevant, contextual and whole.


I think this is an open minded approach. Of course, it was BEFORE Wikinews actually got into action. However, now that we can see the empirical reality of WikiNews, I must say that sociologically WikiNews is doomed to shrink and eventually disintigrate if nothing very special happens.

Now that it has actually been in operation, those who have even cursively participated in writing or judging articles will notice the autocractic culture so typical of the IRC milieu in its days of decline. As we all know, it's easy to be a despot on the Internet, when the worst that could happen is that someone takes the time and trouble to do a socket check. And unfortunately, this social phenomenon appears to be present in the WikiNews community as elsewhere on the net.

Competition will in my opinion be an important factor in doing what can be done to ensure WikiNews doesn't become insular, stagnant and completely insensative to users' opinions. But as with every community, its survivle will ultimately depend upon how will editors, admins and users command the art of human relations.

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