Is WikiTribune The Answer To “Fake News”?

Nieman Lab:

Good things can happen when a crowd goes to work on trying to figure out a problem in journalism. At the same time, completely crowdsourced news investigations can go bad without oversight — as when, for example, a group of Redditors falsely accused someone of being the Boston Marathon bomber. An entirely crowdsourced investigation with nobody to oversee it or pay for it will probably go nowhere. At the same time, trust in the media is low and fact-checking efforts have become entwined with partisan politics.

So what would happen if you combined professional journalism with fact checking by the people? On Monday evening, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launched Wikitribune, an independent site (not affiliated with Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation) “that brings journalists and a community 
of volunteers together” in a combination that Wales hopes will combat fake news online — initially in English, then in other languages.

The site is launching with a crowdfunding campaign to fund the first Wikitribune journalists (the default amount is $10 a month, but users can donate any amount they wish) “with the first issue of Wikitribune following shortly.” The Wikitribune page said that the goal is to hire 10 journalists.

The idea is that the professional journalists will be paid to write “global news stories,” while volunteer contributors will “vet the facts, helps make sure the language is factual and neutral, and will to the maximum extent possible be transparent about the source of news posting full transcripts, video, and audio of interviews. In this way Wikitribune aims to combat the increasing proliferation of online fake news.”

The Wiki concept is always interesting, but the old adage of computers remains true: “garbage in, garbage out”.  Crowdsourcing, as the article suggests, is not necessarily the best way to get at truths, and we just had an election where huge percentages of people swallowed false news line and hook.  So just how will WikiTribune deal with this?  Described above, it just sounds like professional journalists being edited by, well, everybody.  A lot of sniping about semantics.

And even if the changes are substantive, at what point in the never-ending editing and rewriting process does an article cease to be by the person who originally wrote it? The answer to this question will have to be reflected in WikiTribune’s design. If the model is anything like Wikipedia’s page history, the level of transparency that is necessary can make it incredibly time-consuming for readers to synthesize the true source of what they’re reading.

And suppose journalist Jones quotes Congressman Smith, and Congressman Smith wants to retract? Or alter slightly the words he said? He can just go into Wikitribune and edit.  And who is to say who is right?

Still, Wikipedia, despite having accuracy problems here and there, does actually self-correct over time, and that’s a good starting model. The question is whether or not “news” has the time for that kind of self-correction before it stops being news.


What do you think?