Wiki Wiki Wacked

About a year ago I read about Wikipedia, the open source encyclopedia that had just eclipsed Britannica.com in popularity. The secret to Wikipedia’s success is that all of the entries are open to the general public to edit. You can write entries on just about any topic–though turkeymonkey has yet to be added–and factcheck the work of others. Now the folks at the Wikimedia Foundation, the site’s parent organization, have taken the idea one step further, with a site called Wikinews. The idea is really quite simple: to make journalism into a truly collaborative and egalitarian medium, written and edited by the masses.

Noble and exciting as this goal is, there are two main problems: One, most “wiki” writing–or, collectively authored web documents–reads like it was written by 7th graders obsessed with every possible half-point deduction to their history papers. Which isn’t to say that all of the authors are terrible; it’s just that editing by committee, especially one in the tens of thousands, often results in prose that’s overstuffed with facts and bled dry of any personality. Lucky for wiki devotees, there’s Wikibooks, where textbook writers have finally found a cozy home.

The second problem with Wikinews–feel free to call me Mr. Obvious, here–is that there is no fact-checking component before articles go live. Not that fact-checking is all that and a bag of chips. But in the case of breaking news stories, what’s to prevent Wikinews entries from becoming runaway games of telephone? And even if the stories do eventually morph to fit the facts, as printed in newspapers and magazines, why would anyone turn to Wikinews first? If a media outlet broadcasts unreliable facts and biased opinions, well, we have a name for that: Fox News.

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