Is curating Wikipedia the best citizen journalism can do?

Today’s most blogged about story, at least by Techmeme standards, will undoubtedly be Jonathan Dee’s NYT magazine article looking at Wikipedia’s role in breaking news. “Given the chaotic way in which it works, the truly remarkable thing about Wikipedia as a news site is that it works as well as it does,” Dee writes. He notes that Wikipedi’s prominence has overshadowed the (flailing) Wikinews experiment:

So indistinct has the line between past and present become that Wikipedia has inadvertently all but strangled one of its sister projects, the three-year-old Wikinews…There’s just no point in competing with the ruthless purview of the encyclopedia, which now accounts for a staggering one out of every 200 page views on the entire Internet.

Dee focussues on the

relatively small group of hard-core devotees who will, the moment big news breaks, drop whatever they’re doing to take custody of the project and ensure its, for lack of a better term, quality control.”

One of these is 23-year-old librarian and Antioch College student Natalie Martin.

She thought at one point in her life that she wanted to be a journalist, she said, “but then I decided that my only real interest in newspapers is fixing all the comma mistakes.”

Appropriate to an article that appears on Day Three of the iPhone era, Dee quotes Jimmy Wales on how Wikipedia might transcend text:

“The classic question I get at conferences,” Wales said, “is, ‘Do you think Wikipedia will remain text, or will it be more and more video in the future?’ I think it’s pretty hard to beat written words. Especially for collaboration, because words are the most fluid medium for shaping and reshaping and collaboratively negotiating something. It’s kind of hard to do with video, and I don’t think that’s just a technical barrier.”…

In his conclusion, Dee asserts that Dee concludes:

Wikipedia may not exactly be a font of truth, but it does go against the current of what has happened to the notion of truth. The easy global dissemination of, well, everything has generated a D.I.Y. culture of proud subjectivity, a culture that has spread even to relatively traditional forms like television — as in the ascent of advocates like Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly, whose appeal lies precisely in their subjectivity even as they name-check “neutrality” to cover all sorts of journalistic sins. But the Wikipedians, most of them born in the information age, have tasked themselves with weeding that subjectivity not just out of one another’s discourse but also out of their own. They may not be able to do any actual reporting from their bedrooms or dorm rooms or hotel rooms, but they can police bias, and they do it with a passion that’s no less impressive for its occasional excess of piety. Who taught them this? It’s a mystery; but they are teaching it to one another.

That leaves the question that is the title of this post: is policing bias– and accuracy– p the killer app of citizen journalism?  If so, might we need another name for it?

(There is no Wikipedia entry for Jonathan Dee as of Sunday morning.)


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