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Wikitribune: Fake News You Can Pay For

By a Wikipediocracy Member

When Wikitribune announced its first hire two weeks ago, it sounded like they had hired an advertising copywriter cum tech blogger instead of hiring a seasoned journalist. That wasn’t what Jimmy Wales had been selling in his many interviews about his latest venture. Now that Wikitribune has published its first article, what can we deduce about its future?

Holly Brockwell, in her first piece for Wikitribune, has interviewed Lawrence Lessig. The interview is about the state of news reporting and the ad-sponsored news model. Lawrence Lessig just happens to be one of Wikitribune’s advisors, as listed on their website. So, for its premiere effort, Wikitribune interviewed one of Wikitribune’s staff about Wikitribune.

Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig  — Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The interview starts with a preamble introducing Lessig and highlighting some of his qualifications. Did Brockwell leave some work for the volunteer fact-checkers? Yes, she did! Brockwell states that Lessig has “appeared in two films, both award-winners. Obviously”. If you look Lessig up on IMDB, he is credited with 32 appearances as “self”. That’s a lot more than 2. If you remove the documentaries and television appearances, the only non-documentary film he appears in is “The Gent.” Again, not 2. So where did Brockwell get the idea that Lessig is in exactly 2 films?

It seems like Brockwell consulted Wikipedia for her information about Lessig’s film career. His entry there lists 2 and only 2 films in the “filmography” section. Those 2 documentaries are Killswitch and The Internet’s Own Boy. And they did both win awards. Obviously. Journalists who are foolish enough to rely on Wikipedia are not the journalists who will solve the “fake news” problem.

Brockwell makes a point of telling us that 2 of the 3 images used in the article “were made available free of charge through Creative Commons”. Presumably, the third image is not freely licensed, although there is no credit given for it. This is extremely odd, considering that in the interview itself she notes that “WikiTribune will make all of its content available on a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license”. Jimmy Wales has said the same thing in interviews. If the statement is true, all images used in Wikitribune articles must be freely licensed. Perhaps Brockwell didn’t have time to read up on how Creative Commons licensing works before interviewing one of its founders.

Venn is dead

A Venn (Schvenn?) diagram from Wikitribune.

To be fair to Brockwell, she’s a rather lightweight journalist — she mostly covers stories like the appearance of a rainbow pill organizer on the market. Her fire-from-the-ramparts days are behind her.

In an odd twist, her Wikipedia page is sparse and doesn’t even mention her new role at Wikitribune.

If this first article is anything to go by, Wikitribune is already a failure. Jimmy Wales has promised a lot from Wikitribune but it looks doubtful that it can deliver on even the most basic of those promises. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Update (05/24/2017): Commenters have pointed out that the interview with Lessig is on Medium, not Wikitribune. This is true, but that interview is still their first substantial output.

16 comments to Wikitribune: Fake News You Can Pay For

  • The last time Jimmy Wales teamed up with Larry Lessig, the project goal was to put Lessig in the White House by winning the election on November 8th. How did that work out? Well, Wales and Lessig collected over $1 million from gullible donors, despite Lessig not being well-known to the American public and having no chance of winning or even influencing the election. Six days before the election, Lessig closed up shop, noting, “I am not well-known to the American public generally”.

    Wikitribune should follow a similar path. Bilk gullible donors of their cash, then close up shop.

  • The Master

    I want to be fair to Brockwell. It sounds like Wales promised a whole lot and delivered very little to her in the way of resources.

  • Rogol Domedonfors

    For an incisive interview with one of the founding advisors, Brockwell seems to be bowling mainly under-arm. For example: Q: As the founder of Creative Commons, is this the kind of use case you had in mind? A: […] But I do believe we should not have to worry about whether the news we read has been compromised by the commercial interest of the news provider. A good journalist would have followed up with asking why publishing news content under a CC licence prevents the advertisers, or other funders, from compromising the that content. Q: Do you believe litigation is in some cases being used to silence dissent? A: We need courts everywhere to recognise a much stronger immunity from libel for news sites. Why? Surely the ability to sue for libel when news is fake is a protection for the citizen and a disincentive to lying. I think what Lessig means is “immunity for news sites like mine, not for news sites like yours” But Lessig gets one thing spot-on – “A huge proportion of people shifted their news consumption away from platforms with editors, to platforms (like Facebook) without editors. That shift created an obvious incentive for people to distort the truth, or excite partisan differences.” Read Wikipedia for Facebook and we’re in agreement on that one.

  • Kingsindian

    I don’t think WikiTribune has started operating in full. This is probably just a blog post type article, to fill the time while the site gets on with it in earnest (if it actually does).

  • Checking the checkers

    The intent of this post seems to deliberately deceive readers. This interview was posted on medium.com, which is quite obviously not intended to be the WikiTribune platform, which hasn’t even launched yet. It is merely one of their social media channels. Accordingly, you can immediately discount the points about content licensing and fact checkers, as completely irrelevant. Similarly, the criticism about topic choice for their “first article” falls away too, unless it is a revelation to you guys that organisations use social media this way? It is not the WikiTribune news feed as interested observers will understand that phrase, it is merely a piece written by one of their journalists on their social media. The only avenue of serious criticism I can identify that is damaging to WikiTribune, is the fact the interview does not disclose, at least at the top, the WT/CC/Lessig conflict of interest. This does not bode well for their approach to journalistic ethics. It may have helped this blog post’s usefulness if you had specifically noted this failure though, right? The rest is just a pretty cheap attempt at character assassination of the journalist in question, in the apparent hope some of it rubs off on the entire organisation. Maybe she got that film factoid from Wikipedia, and maybe it is wrong (the writing is so poor I would have to go to some lengths to even figure this out for myself), but it is so inconsequential as a signifier of her competence, let alone the future of WikiTribune, it is barely worth mentioning. Journo uses Wikipedia is today’s man bites dog. Not worthy of a full blog post, you have a forum where such trivia can be noted, alongside the pretty unremarkable observation that her Wikipedia biography is not up to date. Presumably this is because the content of Wikipedia biographies of lesser known individuals always lags behind the known universe, due to their insistence people completely unconnected with the subject have to be the one to make the edit, and back it up with a source. The blog post may have merited this failure being noted, had you included this crucial context for readers, although criticism of Wikipedia would rather distract from the theme, which is apparently to demonstrate how WikiTribune will be a failure, not how Wikipedia is still a failure. On that score, I note you have not even provided verification in this post that she was even the author. The trusty fact checkers at the alternative criticism site Wikipedia Review have identified the required evidence, so you can update your post. Here is the specific tweet https://mobile.twitter.com/holly/status/865495300512792576 We have noticed you have made other alterations based on our feedback there, (or maybe independently, they were rather obvious errors), and we have also noticed you have not noted anywhere on this page that the content has been changed since the time of first publication. I take it the author of this post, the mysterious person bravely attacking this woman from a position of complete anonymity, wasn’t able to find any errors of greater magnitude than these? In her interview, or in Wikipedia? I assume they will have gone over it all with a fine tooth comb. It is a shame you missed the part where WikiTribune managed to get a front page slot on Wikipedia recently. For future reference, you will catch developments like this if you monitor the talk page of the Wikipedia articles you are writing about, as seen in this edit https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk%3AWikitribune&type=revision&diff=781394065&oldid=778676399 although I appreciate the 24 hour window of opportunity for you to notice this edit may have been insufficient for it to be handled by your newsroom as a late breaking update to this piece, this time around. Hopefully it will be mentioned in one of the future blog posts you said you are planning to write on this subject. Are eager readers of this blog, which has seen quite a slump in activity in recent years, to take this as a sign you are also going to produce more posts relating to Wikipedia too? Here’s hoping.

    • Surely you mean “fine-tooth comb”, not a good comb for dental care. Other than that, tl;dr.

      • Checking the checkers

        That phrase which appears four fifths of the way down the long comment you claim you never read? You read it, you just don’t want to defend this blog post against its contents. Probably for the best, law of holes and everything.

    • Rogol Domedonfors

      The publication discussed in this post is subheaded “WikiTribune interviews net neutrality expert Larry Lessig on politics, the media, and the future”; it is by a writer stated to have been hired by Wikitribune; and it is published on a page dedicated to Wikitribune and described in the footer as “from Wikitribune”. Describing it as “published by Wikitribune” seems correct.

  • Looking at the Venn diagram, it appears that Wikitribune intends for its community members and its journalists to be pointy.

  • To echo what Kingsindian said above, perhaps it would be fair to cite the title of that interview / informal piece on Medium. (Especially, the “Bloody Future” part). Is this a work under construction? Does Wikipediocracy accept input from citizen journalists? If so, I think the fact that a good part of a notorious cabal has shown up again on AE might be a better place to be shining bright lights into the dark corners of political advocacy on WP.

    • As an editor, not the author, I added an update clarifying that the interview was on Medium. As far as accepting input from citizen journalists, we do. Write us a blog post and if we like it, up it goes.

  • That you for including the Venn diagram from the WikiTribune website. However, I believe that it is mislabeled. On the left the red circle should be labeled “Wikipedia” instead of “Community.” The yellow circle on the right should be labeled “Jimbo acolytes” instead of “Journalist” and the blue circle on the center should be labeled “citeogenesis (XKCD)” instead of “facts”. https://xkcd.com/978/ Please make the appropriate corrections and repost. Thanks

    • Those whimsical markings and the central plinth are why that image was included.

      • Checking the checkers

        You mean why it was chosen to replace the image that was there originally? Why was that removed anyway? Are we allowed to know, or is it a secret? We over at Wikipedia Review, the original and the best Wikipedia criticism site, came up with two possible answers, but given what they are, we would understand why you might think it too embarrassing to reveal them.

        • Comment on the article, that’s fine, although you’re too long winded. Please be more concise.

          Please don’t go through a long cycle of conspiracy theories about small details and impugn people’s motives or I’ll just block you.

          The photo I put in before? The author asked me to remove it. That’s all.

          Things are simpler than you can conceive.

          • Naturally zhe went on further down the direction I’d asked them not to, so no more. Too bad, when they weren’t getting in my face, they made a couple cogent points. You can’t really ‘block’ anyone in WordPress, but any further crap-posts will be moderated.