Is Wikipedia a credible source for journalists?
Of course not! But what is?
Journalist can of course never solely rely on information obtained through Wikipedia, but such sayings remain irrelevant. In effect, prior to their use and publication, the source and credibility of almost any information ought to be verified by the journalist.It’s part of the job!
After a concise definition of Wikipedia, we will reflect on the consequences its use may have upon journalists. In conclusion, we will maintain that despite its disadvantages, Wikipedia is simply fabulous and unquestionably part of last decade’s best innovations.
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Singer. It’s content is collectively produced via a wikis system, which enables every Internet user to freely participate to the creation and modification of Wikipedia articles. Due to it’s permanent modifiable status, all Wikipedia articles are to be considered unaccomplished and thus, potentially improvable. The mission of this enterprise can be summarized through Wales’ following statement: “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing” (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jimmy_Wales).
Similarly to Kant’s concept of public publicity, Wales’ believes that qualified knowledge can be produced through means of public interactions. In January 2010, 267 editions of Wikipedia have been recorded, which means that today Wikipedia is available in more than 267 languages. In February 2010, Wikipedia contained more than 15 million articles, which makes it the biggest encyclopedia of all time.
How does it work?
One quickly wonders how on god’s green earth Wikipedia protects itself from false information and defamation. Besides the gigantic amount of Internet users who contribute to the modification and production of its content and thus, verification (anyone can post a alert message indicating his or her doubt on the veracity or legitimacy of a wikipedia information), Wikipedia is also managed by a distinct organization in which each employee has a title and specific function. Among their tasks, the supervision and verification of Wikipedia’s content which also implies, if necessary, the removal of defamatory or suspected false information.
But this is not all. A significant part of Wikipedia’s management is produced by voluntary work. Thousands and thousands of volunteers contribute daily to the quality of Wikipedia by tracking, removing or replacing erroneous data. These wikipedia volunteers are themselves incorporated in a hierarchic structure granting them various types of freedom and power. “Normally, the correction of an error or a fallacious information is corrected within a few hours or even minutes” asserts cofounder Larry Singer in an interview reported by Le Figaro the 15th of October 2007. Of course, these corrections mainly depend on the popularity of the subject.
As a journalist, using Wikipedia as a source is problematic mainly for one precise reason: wikipedia articles, which are all by definition copyright free, possess neither authorship nor inscription else than the name of its Internet platform, Wikipedia. This feature is tricky for a journalist because it hinders him from authenticating the obtained information and thus, to protect himself from the eventual consequences that could result from the publication of an erroneous information. In other words, the use of Wikipedia, if not completed by secondary sources and authentications, increases the journalist’s risks in publishing erroneous information and therefore, the eventual degradation of his reputation.
Even though Wikipedia is unable to certify the reliability of its content, one ought to admit that Wikipedia is a marvelous entrée en matière for millions of subjects. When one is completely lost, Wikipedia appears to be the most basic rescuer one can find. Every article published on Wikipedia is supported by distinct sources, which are meant to lead one to further websites capable of deepening one’s research.
Moreover, publishing information extracted by Wikipedia and no other source is just a bad idea for any journalist. Why? Simply because what can be found on Wikipedia is what everyone “in theory” or at least potentially, already knows. And no one wishes to purchase information that may be found for free on Wikipedia. The golden rule: to use Wikipedia as a source of inspiration and guidance, but never ever as an exclusive source of an information.