Wikitribune, evidence-based journalism and combating fake news
April 24, 2017 8:35 PM   Subscribe

From the founder of Wikipedia comes Wikitribune, a platform for evidence-based journalism. NiemanLab. Guardian.
posted by Foci for Analysis (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Although I applaud the effort, I am not optimistic that it will win over the folks who are steadfast consumers of right-wing news.
posted by bz at 8:53 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Lots of buzzwords, lack of clarity in how the vision be achieved, along with a seeming willful that naively thinks this will make money.

I hope it succeeds.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:02 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm all about experimental internet media. Hope it doesn't turn into nazis!
posted by oceanjesse at 9:07 PM on April 24, 2017 [20 favorites]

"We're taking the most contentious articles from Wikipedia and moving them to a subscription based service where 10 paid journalists will battle Putin's disinformation army for the attention of whoever doesn't already get enough news spam from their uncles in Florida."

is my HOT TAKE. But my HOT TAKE of Wikipedia when it started was probably just as dismissive, so best of luck Jimmy.
posted by gwint at 9:08 PM on April 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

as a former reporter, I'd like to see it succeed, too. But right now I'd just be happy if it would load.
(once there's content, I'll give it a hard look and write something more serious.)
posted by martin q blank at 9:08 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lots of buzzwords

Lots. Transparency is admirable but it's not some glorified be-all. If The New York Times opened its books tomorrow it wouldn't change many minds on the right or left.
posted by not_the_water at 9:11 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I look forward to detailed news articles on fascism in anime.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:49 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Those contributors who also support the site financially will eventually be able to advise on the topics they want Wikitribune to explore, Wales said.

“If you take as an example the bitcoin community, they’re a very active and obsessed community.

“There’s a lot of news that comes out in the field, and I think they’d love to be able to raise money to hire a journalist and put them on the bitcoin/blockchain beat.”
This is not what I was hoping for.

I think that real improvement in the media/journalism/available truth ecosystem will have to follow some kind of reimagining of how to fund and support efforts like this. Something more end-user driven than current crowdfunding, and with less waste/overhead, but that lets people contribute incrementally to specific efforts and broad values that they actually care about.

I do not think that bitcoin is where we need to be focusing right now.
posted by amtho at 9:58 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Doesn’t Wikipedia still have a problem with citation looping? (Bad wiki entry shows up, an article gets written citing it, entry gets rewritten to use article as a citation.) Like, I’m all for this, but on the surface I can’t help but think that there are some credibility issues…
posted by Going To Maine at 10:29 PM on April 24, 2017

wait.. so this organization is going to hire what it presumably believes will be top-notch journalists, and then subject them to editing by the random masses of people who pay a monthly subscription? good luck keeping good journalists under those conditions.

and what about those community editors? citing facts (or purporting to do so) is easy, but who decides what counts as a fact? is source X as good as source Y? and what's to keep any given article (even one that started out ok as originally submitted by the journalist herself) from devolving into an editing/flame war between various community editors who each think he or she is the best arbiter of the facts?

look, there is nothing new under the sun. good journalism already exists, and lots of people from the washington post to pro publica know how to do it right. we don't need a new model of how to DO journalism, we need a new model of how to MARKET it so it can better compete against political propaganda, which is having a major renaissance right now.
posted by wibari at 10:46 PM on April 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

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Awww, now I'll never get to find out if (unlike Wikileaks) it's actually a wiki!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:40 PM on April 24, 2017

Also Wikitribune is an awful name.
posted by greermahoney at 12:14 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

This seems like a solution in search of a problem. If the story is about (say) what Paul Ryan is doing to get a bill passed, it depends on the reporter having access to Paul Ryan-- or staffers, or other congresscritters-- it's not something that can be crowdsourced. And stories would be less informational if every interview had to be fully on the record.

The "fake news" problem is, in essence, that a lot of people are passing around crap on Facebook. Another news site is not going to change that.
posted by zompist at 12:20 AM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

This site cannot load for me but Wikinews already exists.
posted by koavf at 12:50 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

And Larry Sanger founded Infobitt (which never really launched).
posted by koavf at 1:09 AM on April 25, 2017

Also Wikitribune is an awful name.

Tronc was already taken.
posted by zippy at 6:42 AM on April 25, 2017 [10 favorites]

"Wikitronc" has a certain music to it, though.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

What is the current president but the wikitribune of the Info Wars people?
posted by Going To Maine at 8:18 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Community control and involvement is the problem, not the solution.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:25 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, this misses the core issue with "fake news". It's not that fake news isn't true, which is certainly a problem. It's that people are willing to believe fake news despite evidence showing it be not true. Evidence or the lack thereof is a side issue, the greater problem is that people have come to filter news by ideology or gut feeling and ignore or mistrust anything that doesn't agree with them or reinforce their preconceived notions.

I'm not sure what the point of this project even is. The kind of person who believes the mainstream media is all liberal lies isn't going to be swayed by this, or even pay attention to it in the slightest, dismissing it as more liberal propaganda. Do the people behind this project really thing that, say, climate change deniers were just waiting for a properly-sourced wiki-generated article to embrace the need for environmental action?
posted by Sangermaine at 8:30 AM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

So the people that created the site that has massive white, male, cis bias due to structural issues recruiting editors of other backgrounds is now going to go out and create an unbiased news source?
posted by herda05 at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

herda05: the Wikimedia Foundation has tried hard to promote non-Anglo/non-First World/non-white editors and communities as well as to encourage the participation of women for several years across several platforms, spending several million dollars. If you have ideas of how they can do a better job, then they would be happy to know them. Also, I am not familiar with any "cis bias" on Wikipedia... what do you mean?

For better or worse, the Internet and Internet subculture come from some place and have been exploited or at the very least maximized by certain persons. While there are no doubt some problems with Wikipedia, I think it fares better than the Internet at large and better than most large Internet for-profit companies. The difference between the Wikimedia Foundation and large Internet retailers or social media sites is that it is a non-profit which has transparency and you could easily be on the board. What do you think they should be doing differently?
posted by koavf at 8:48 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

The kind of person who believes the mainstream media is all liberal lies isn't going to be swayed by this

This answer is too easy.

I drop by r/the_donald occasionally, and every once in a while I do find people thinking critically -- although it's quick to be deleted. Here's an example. The removed comment that everyone's replying to originally said: "Stop sharing this fake story. The judge ruled against CNN in a pre-trial motion. There has not yet been a final decision. I swear this is posted every day. This crap discredits us."

I read the MeFi political threads regularly. I try to also make a note when I see MeFites thinking uncritically. I won't link to individual comments, but there's a fair amount of "oh you can't trust X" without sourcing or proof.

Obviously there are going to be critical thinkers even in the most wretched hives, and moments of thoughtlessness even among a group that values truth and integrity, so these examples don't exactly prove anything. But they remind me that the knee jerk explanation, that 'these kinds of people are just different', is at best incomplete.

Why don't rightwingers believe the mainstream media? Is it because it tells them things they don't want to hear? Is it because they don't understand the rules and standards which they're supposed to be held to? Is it because they understand the rules and standards but don't think anyone's being held to them? Is it because they don't see themselves and their culture represented among the hosts and correspondents and reporters? Is it because Donald Trump tells them not to believe it? Is it because of the decades of claims from Fox News and the like of 'liberal bias'?

What values and beliefs do 'these kinds of people' have that make them so succeptible to Trump's fake-news-mongering?

Wikitribune's theory of change seems to be that if the process by which news is produced is more open and verifiable, then people will have more trust in the product of that news. This may not be the best approach, but until someone articulates a better theory of change, I'm going to support it.
posted by galaxy rise at 11:00 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is beyond stupid, to the degree that I'm legitimately surprised it's not satire. Presumably Jimmy Wales, having made his livelihood off of crowdsourced information, would understand the multitude of reasons why this is a conceptual failure. I guess not, though.
posted by codacorolla at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2017

I'd guess nobody has come up with anything better, yet, so he figured he'd at least try _something_.
posted by amtho at 12:04 PM on April 25, 2017

koavf: Having reread my comment it comes off as snarky, and I apologize for that.

The crux of my criticism is that Wales and his team need to do better with this than they did with Wikipedia. News is not something you can correct after you publish.

I'm sympathetic to the fact that there are structural blockages to non-white male editors. However, those roadblocks sort of throw the whole crowdsourcing model into trouble don't they? I think that question is fundamentally glossed over by proponents of the "sharing economy" and people who believe that the crowd sourcing model is just "inherently good".

If you're going into the news business, and I think "news" is a critical function of a healthy democracy and civil society, you need to make sure the foundation and model you adopt does not start with inherent biases and blockages for large sectors of your intended audience.
posted by herda05 at 1:12 PM on April 25, 2017

This is excellent news, for now we can rest secure in the knowledge that our news will be firmly supported by only the most rules-lawyering rules lawyers! Next up, obsessively detailed discussions of Pokémon phyla, while major advances in welding science go completely unremarked, since everyone knows Pokémon are intrinsically newsworthy and should receive maximum attention.

...maybe with some brief news breaks for coverage of the latest Bitcoin wannabe.
posted by aramaic at 7:24 PM on April 25, 2017

herda05: That is really mature of you to say—I have to admit that I am rarely as thoughtful. I cannot speak for Wales et al. but I would be interested in knowing more about how to improve the wiki process.
posted by koavf at 9:12 PM on April 25, 2017


Look, I want this to succeed. Hell, I'd love to work there. But this is something that would be well-served by looking at the history of journalism, especially with regard to objectivity as a norm or goal. The "objective" model replaced yellow journalism and the previous party press model because the "objective" viewpoint it took was to validate the perspectives of the upper class for consumption by the middle class strivers. Like, literally, the New York Times Ochs objective model was created for train commuters to be able to learn how to talk with their bosses. It is animated by the spirit of wealthy, cosmopolitan, businessmen. That doesn't mean that it hasn't done a lot of good, but that the fundamental claim underlying it as a project is impossible. You can argue that there are facts beyond subjectivity, but there are no real narratives beyond subjectivity.

The sometimes absurd NPOV structure of Wikipedia is good enough for an encyclopedia, but the need to regularly lock pages for current events should show the problems with assuming that there are facts to check that don't need subjective judgment — one of the things professional journalists ostensibly provide, but that can't by nature be fully transparent in the moment.

This is also complicated by the use of sources in beat writing. The goal of producing beats is a great one, in theory. But moving beyond AP line items, the journalist almost always knows much more about the story than what they report — especially beat writers.

One big part is access: Sources have to trust you to keep them private, and to get sources you have to essentially negotiate what you can disclose. I've been both a journalist and a PR flack; I've been on both sides of this. Journalists get canned statements from misattributed figureheads and the "facts" of third-party opinion come inherently with bias — even repeating "both sides" of opinion-facts is biased. A lot of the work of journalism is cultivating those sources, so that you get information that you can't print that gives you a broader context to frame the narrative. But there's no way to cite "anonymous administration source" in a transparent way — you have to trust the paper's policies to properly vet non-disclosed sources. And, as is obvious, even this can be captured by bullshitters to warp the framing of any story, with unacknowledged biases inherent in pretty much any situation where humans approach a set of facts without perfect information.

I hate to be that guy, but part of this is a problem with modernism: objective news is a modernist project. But any pluralistic, liberal social/political project will by necessity admit people who want to annihilate that project, i.e. there's no way to keep fascists out of liberal democracy. Because of that, there's no way to keep fascists out of Wikitribune while adhering to a model that will be free, transparent, objective, participatory and meaningful. If you do, you're vulnerable to all of the criticism of our current news that fuels the rise of fake news/alt news. If you don't, well, Fox is fair and balanced, right?

I don't think this is a bad project by any means, just that it has that Web 1.0 techno-naïveté that is either ignorant of or oblivious to critiques that underpin the project. Or, to put it in journo metaphor, this seems like the Wikitribune exists to report the WHAT, not the WHY, despite the WHY being the only part of reporting that can actually counter the clickbait fake-news bullshit.

News is not something you can correct after you publish."

If newspapers had to run their corrections on the front page, that would be a lot more true. As it stands, it's something that sounds nice but doesn't reflect actual practice.

posted by klangklangston at 10:37 PM on April 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

News is not something you can correct after you publish.

Sure you can. That is what the 'correction' part of news is for. I'm rather sure if one digs around various articles of various news outlets just changing a web page without ever noting this is a new version can be found.

Then there is the popular deletion of news - an article appears and then just goes away.

But not trusting 'the news' is not something new and Mr. Wales does not seem to be addressing Mr. Swinton points from 1880.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:04 PM on April 28, 2017

This appears today in the “Did you know” (permalink?) section of the Wikipedia home page.
Did you know...
... that Jimmy Wales wants WikiTRIBUNE to counter fake news?
...although Wikitribune is "not affiliated with Wikipedia or its support organisation". You know that because it says so right there in its Wikipedia entry!

The site is up but still has no news on it; per the FAQ that isn't expected until its September 2017 launch.
posted by XMLicious at 4:54 AM on May 21, 2017

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