Wikipedia as a news source

Wikipedia is a constantly evolving resource which can provide accurate and interesting data for journalists. But how can news organisations incorporate the entries in accurate reports when the site is so easily open to abuse.

The Wikipedia community in the UK has been disrupted over the past few weeks following the revelations that top editors of the site where selling space on the main front page to clients.

According to the blogger Violet Blue, a page concerning the country of Gibraltar appeared in the “Did You Know?” section of the site an astonishing 14 times in August. The only other page to get as many entries during that month was the Olympics.

The BBC incorporates Wikipedia into their nature website as a way directing their interested users to detailed information about specific species. Understandably this use has been questioned on the site and the BBC responded accordingly.

We feel that we provide best value to the licence fee payer by concentrating our resources on providing great original content and making it easy to find that content on the web.

By incorporating content from Wikipedia we can offer good quality background information across the breadth of natural history content, while focusing on bringing unique content online.

The corporation relies upon the Wikipedia community to keep entries accurate and to police the site to stop vandals uploading incorrect data. But the news that editors could be fixing the front page for money, against the wishes of the larger Wikipedia community surely demonstrates how easily individuals can derail the sites self policing policy.

But using Wikipedia with no thought to the rules that govern the site, news organisations risk creating inaccurate and potentially libellous reports online. For example the Vatican  recently released unedited biographies taken from the Italian version of  Wikipedia to journalists.

The biographies were tampered with by Wikipedia vandals when the story broke. If journalists had not recognised the entries as Wikipedia reports then they would have broadcast incorrect and inaccurate data.

The author Philip Roth is campaigning to have his Wikipedia entry changed after being told by the site’s administrators that he was “not a credible source” for making edits to entries concerning his own novels. His open letter in the New Yorker shows the frustration faced by many organisations at how difficult it can sometimes be to edit certain entries.

Wikipedia offers a unique resource for journalists to interact with interested citizens eager to share knowledge about their local communities. But as the contributors do not need to abide by the restrictions placed on journalists to create accurate and contemporaneous content, entries need to be treated with caution.

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