In the news
Journalist regrets not checking citation; PR firms issue advice on how to survive Wikipedia (and a U.S. Congressman's office is accused of copying)
Wikipedia in the spotlight again after newspaper blunder
Ice hockey manager Mike Gillis criticised the Toronto Star
this week for publishing a quotation attributed to him on Wikipedia without checking that he actually said it.
Wikipedia and its ability to be freely edited by anyone has again come under media scrutiny this week after the Toronto Star published a falsified quote attributed to Mike Gillis, the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team, made about former Canucks forward Rick Rypien, who died earlier this week. (The story was later corrected with an accompanying apology, after Gillis and the Canucks criticised the newspaper in a statement.) This is not the first time that journalists have made such a blunder; for example, many newspapers included an erroneous quotation attributed to Maurice Jarre after his death in 2009 (see previous Signpost coverage).
An intern at the Star had found a quote supposedly by Gillis on Wikipedia attributed to the Vancouver Sun, and did not verify its accuracy before including it in his story. His editor likewise assumed that the quote was accurate, as the story did not reference Wikipedia. As a result, Michael Cooke, the Editor of the Star, sent out an internal memo telling writers to verify the accuracy of information obtained from Wikipedia. In the memo, he noted numerous problems with his own biography in Wikipedia, including the fact that "up until a month ago it had me graduating from a university in New Zealand. I have never stepped foot in that country. Other errors remain."
In response, Kathy English, the public editor at the Star, has written an opinion piece titled "Don't trust Wikipedia". In it, she cites a Wikipedia essay, "10 things you did not know about Wikipedia", which says "we do not expect you to trust us", and ends her piece by noting that journalists must know what information to trust, in order to maintain their readers' trust.
A discussion on the administrator's noticeboard highlighted the fact that the quote had been sourced to an online reference (which the Star writer had failed to check), initially reproducing the original faithfully, but then tampered with by a vandal.
The public relations professional's guide to Wikipedia
Recently, several online publications have focused on a topic of recurring relevance to Wikipedia editors intent on policing its strict policy on neutrality: questionable editing of the encyclopaedia by public relations professionals. The search engine result prominence of Wikipedia, the apparent openness of editing, and its perceived status as a "good enough" authority of neutrality and illumination for a wide breadth of topics make direct engagement with the site perennially attractive to those tasked with improving the online profile of celebrities, products and institutions.
For example, edSocialMedia have released a guide to Wikipedia for educational institutions, advising the addition of flattering photographs, promotional Facebook links, and lists of prominent alumni, and highlighting the Worcester Academy article as a particularly well-written article in the latter regard. Ragan's PR Daily also issued guidance, but noted the potential ethical difficulties for public relations professionals seeking to engage with the encyclopaedia; the four "rules of engagement" offered were "establish notability', "be transparent", "avoid jargon", and "ask for help". In a press release for its own guide, EreviewGuide.com adopted a wary tone, with media relations consultant Oliver Thompson counselling would-be editors of the "dark side" of the project; that "Wikipedia can easily become a trap," and "If used improperly, Wikipedia can get you expelled for plagiarism, can torpedo your term paper grade, can cause professional embarrassment and all sorts of headaches. People need to use Wikipedia with proper tools." Its extensive and well-informed "Wikipedia Survival Guide" encouraged prospective contributors to "read other Wikipedia entries first", "balance opposing views", "for every assertion or claim, offer support", "keep the correct hierarchy of sources in mind", and "no anonymous edits". Notable by its omission was seeking recourse to Wikipedia's internal help network, which is undergoing revision to counter accusations of hostility towards newcomers.
- Gillis misquote fallout: The Vancouver Sun published a photo essay of the "Top 10 Wikipedia factual blunders" on the same day the error was reported in the Star article. The essay, which mainly covers instances of outright vandalism, also includes the suggestion that 100,000 articles on the English Wikipedia may be factually incorrect due to vandal activity.
- Wales to lead BBC festival: The BBC reported that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is to be the keynote speaker at BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival, which will take place in November this year.
- U.S. Congressman's office accused of embellishing article: The Huffington Post reported on a series of edits made by Wikipedia user HouseofRep. (talk · contribs), claiming to be from Indiana Republican Representative Mike Pence's office, to Pence's article in April 2011. The report notes that the edits included wholesale copy-and-paste content from Pence's official website, which triggered a concern about WP:POV. The user has not edited since April 30, 2011, but has received messages on his talk page regarding this, including one from the Wikimedia Foundation's Philippe Beaudette.
- Wikipedia in India: According to a Times of India report, students from a number of engineering courses at the College of Engineering Pune will now have to edit Wikipedia articles as a compulsory part of their undergraduate degree programmes. "The exercise is aimed at developing research, writing and review skills, critical thinking and collaborative work ethics among students," the newspaper reports.
- How many articles lead to philosophy?: According to news.com.au, a man named Mat Kelcey, based in Seattle, Washington according to his Twitter profile, downloaded an offline backup of all Wikipedia articles which amounted to 30 gigabytes—just to find out exactly from how many articles one will get to the article about philosophy by clicking on the first link in each article. (Since at least 2008, it had been conjectured that this is the case for most articles, see Wikipedia:Get to Philosophy. In May, an Xkcd episode triggered media interest in this observation, see Signpost coverage.) According to the results, three and a half million pages on Wikipedia will eventually take you to the article on philosophy if you only clicked on the first link in each article, while just one hundred thousand won't. Full results are also available.
- Azeri and Armenian Wikipedias compared: An article on the news.az news portal compares the growth rates of the Azeri and Armenian Wikipedias, noting that the Azeri Wikipedia has seen greater growth in editor numbers and the number of articles compared to the Armenian Wikipedia in the last six months.
- Gujarati Wikipedia to get help: Daily News and Analysis, a news website with a strong Indian focus, reports that Gujarati Sahitya Parishad (a literary council for the Gujarati language) is to look into assisting the Gujarati-language Wikipedia. "If we want to pass on a rich legacy of Gujarati language to next generation of Gujaratis, we must use the technology and medium of expression available. ... Gujarati Parishad is posting Gujarati literature on Wikipedia and as an institution [and] we would like to check the information available on the site", says Secretary of the council Rajendra Patel.
- Wikimedian achieves first legal enforcement of CC license in Germany: The regional court of Berlin (Landgericht Berlin) has ruled in favor of a German Wikipedian against the reuse of a photo from Commons which violated the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. As reported (in German) last month by ifrOSS, the preliminary injunction was already granted in October; it does not appear to have been contested. ifrOSS called it "as far as known the first successful enforcement of a Creative Commons license in Germany". The photo in question depicts Thilo Sarrazin, a politician whose statements on immigration policy and criticism of multiculturalism had started a huge controversy last year, during which the photo was used on the blog of a right wing party, without naming the photographer and without linking (or reproducing) the license text. User:Nina was represented by JBB, a law firm which has also represented the German Wikimedia chapter in various cases.
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