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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"A replacement for traditional news media": Wikinews founder Erik Moeller

Wikinews, part of the world of Wikimedia, challenges the establishment boldly contradicting essentially every characteristic of contemporary newspapers; no editorial staff, no paid journalists, no bias, no money. "How can such a model work, never mind threaten mainstream newspapers?" you might ask. In the wake of the First International Wikimedia Conference (see previous postings here, here and here), here's Erik Moeller, founder of Wikinews, to explain his project and its potential effects on conventional media.

Why does Wikipedia need Wikinews if you can already find breaking news on the Encyclopedia?

Wikinews articles provide very detailed information about specific events ("Allende toppled: Pinochet new ruler"). Wikipedia articles provide condensed information about a series of events (w:History of Chile, w:Augusto Pinochet, etc.). Also, Wikinews allows original research, while Wikipedia does not (Wikinews may eventually become reliable enough to be cited as a source on Wikipedia). (This is answered in detail here).

Beyond what is said there, a key difference is that Wikinews does allow original reporting, while Wikipedia does not -- in fact, the encyclopedia has a strict "no original research policy".

In practice, the events described in most articles on Wikinews rarely find more than a brief mention, if any, in Wikipedia. Some undesirable overlap happens on articles about major events that are worthy of an article in Wikipedia; however, in the case of the London attacks last month, this quickly faded, as Wikinews started reporting individual events in detail (over 20 articles were published) and included original reporting not allowable on Wikipedia, such as a witness report from the bus explosion.

Is Wikinews still a beta? If yes, for how much longer?

It's still in Beta and will likely remain so for quite some time. The main issues to work out are:
* increasing the daily output of articles (our goal is to have at least about 25 articles per day)
* towards this end, further simplifying the story submission process
* increasing the amount of original reporting
* giving outside parties the ability to link to revisions that have been checked for vandalism (i.e. flagging the most recently community-checked version somehow).

There is a lot of technical work that needs to be done here, and right now, our development resources are very limited. A grant specifically towards funding Wikinews would help a great deal; if you have any suggestions in this regard, please let me know.

What do you feel are Wikinews biggest achievements? What needs to be improved?

I have always believed that original reporting would only make up a small proportion of the overall content, so this result does not surprise me. If we manage to increase the overall output to such a level that, say, we have 10 original reporting stories per day, that would be wonderful. The quality of citizen reports so far is great, in my opinion, with stories such as this one and this one.

See original reporting for a complete list. I think many of these stories prove that we can do great work in this department, and I'd love to see more as our overall output grows.

Surprisingly, the main challenge for Wikinews has not been quality (though there are some quality issues) or propaganda, but steady growth. While Wikipedia grows exponentially, Wikinews grows more linearly and unpredictably. Given the massive surge of traffic during the London attacks, I believe that Wikinews will have to prove itself as history unfolds, and will continue to build a large reader base.

Can you give two examples of Wikinews articles that distinguish your project from mainstream media?

I would say this story on Tanzania is a good example, because it covers a rather local, yet very important and symbolic event in much detail. I also like the RFID story above, which didn't ever get beyond the blogosphere, I think, and where we did the work of summarizing all the available information and writing a decent article.

The most important distinction that is valid for all articles is, of course, that our stories are free content, free for anyone to copy and modify forever. This makes it posible to use them as the basis for other citizen media of any type. Finally, our neutral point of view policy should lead to stories that are less biased and more inclusive of different points of view than those in privately owned media; whether this bears out in practice is still not sure. So far I would say we are
"differently biased", in selection primarily.

How can you define Wikinews in the global news environment? What is the added value of a Wikinews article compared to to a blog's posting?

Simply put, I see Wikinews, if it succeeds, as a replacement for traditional news media, and I see blogs as a replacement for op-eds and other forms of news commentary. Both work together well. If you want to report news factually and reach many readers, then I believe Wikinews will become the right environment for you. If you want to write a rant, get a blog.

Replacing existing media is of course very ambitious -- but then again, Wikipedia is increasingly becoming a replacement for traditional encyclopedias. I think we need to explore ways in which we can fund expensive investigative reporting by citizen journalists in order to be truly competitive, however.

Could you explain the concepts of 'Neutral Point of View' and
'collective intelligence' and how they are connected?

The Neutrality Policy, in its simplest form, states that an article must be written in such a form that any essentially rational reader will agree with its content. This implies that expressions of opinions have to be attributed -- to a source, to a reporter.

For example, "Homosexuality is wrong" is not a neutral statement that any essentially rational reader will agree with. "The Seventh-day Adventist Church views homosexual intercourse and relationships as sinful." is such a statement.

The policy deals not primarily with balance, as the wiki process of piecemeal additions makes this difficult to enforce, and, in any case, balance of the form "each side gets 50%" is not scientifically justifiable. The proportion of a view in a single article depends not only on the overall number of views, but also on what number of experts dealing with the subject of the article hold that view. For example, most biologists believe that life evolved over 4 billion years, so it is fair to generally refer to this point of view when dealing with articles in the field of biology.

Neutrality will hopefully arise through the conflicts and agreements of the users. On Wikinews, this tends to work remarkably well, as Wikinews authors can be stereotyped as being passionate about news, more so than being passionate about any particular subject. Why else would you spend hours writing an obituary, about a natural disaster, a politician's election, a scientific discovery, etc.? The people who do spend this effort tend to fight over how news should be written, what news should be published and which design should be used for the frontpage, rather than the neutrality of the content.

Bloggers claim a sort of "collective intelligence" in that their postings can be corrected or commented on by others. Is this the same type of collective intelligence within Wikinews?

More so, as anyone can truly edit any article while it is being worked on. I would also say that the collective intelligence is more efficient than on Wikipedia itself, for the simple reason that the entire community can focus on the articles being written at any given time, rather than having to keep an eye on thousands of pages (published articles are rarely edited and eventually frozen).

I would add one caveat; if we do grow beyond our wildest imagination, we may get more original reporting of a highly local nature. This is difficult to verify for anyone not from the area, so it is possible that Wikinews may need to reach a certain penetration in an area before becoming a reliable source of news relating to that location.

What have been the reactions of professional journalists and editors to Wikinews?

The mainstream press has reacted quite harshly for the most part. I think they don't like that we make the same information they provide for money available for free to anyone.

A few months ago, I spoke in front of a number of professional journalists. The question came up whether they would be out of a job soon. I said, "If we do our job right, that is, if we provide the same level of investigative reporting that you do, then you should be out of a job. But I believe we will never be able to do that unless an economy develops around the Wikinews model itself, in which case you might well become a worker in that new economy."

Most of the news on Wikinews is taken from mainstream news sources. How do you plan on implementing more relevant original reporting on the site?

We'll have some contests, and we will try to create more region- and topic-specific portals which encourage immediate contribution. We also recently set up a phone hotline for reporting events on the spot, and are experimenting with audio and video. In general, however, I'm happy if the overall percentage of original reporting is constantly low, if the absolute number of stories is increasing.

Is there much peer editing from the Wiki community on Wikinews? Have you encountered any problems in leaving the news open to the entire connected world?

There is an interesting pheonomenon on Wikinews which I hope will receive more analysis if the project is succesful. Editors are likely to pick up other people's stories and polish them only after a certain quality threshold has been reached. It's rarely good enough to start with a stub to get others involved. If you do, however, write a story that gets close to publication, there may be a flurry of edits to address any remaining issues.

This means that it's generally a bigger challenge to get started on Wikinews, as an individual will have to do more work to get anywhere than on Wikipedia. Perhaps we will find a way to publish "news stubs" as meaningful news briefs.

The openness has so far not been much of a problem. We've had a few repeat vandals, but that's inevitable in wikis. I think an effort to subtly manipulate the content would be doomed to failure as we have only a few articles to watch over. So, in some ways, I think Wikinews is more eligible for openness than even Wikipedia.

Could you explain the difference in business models between Wikinews and OhmyNews? Will you adopt some of OhmyNews' methods such as a professional staff and payments for citizens' contributions?

OhmyNews is the most traditional of the larger citizen news sites. It is funded by advertising and employs a staff, which is split into two groups: regular news writers, and "citizen reporter" editors. Citizen journalism ofen consists of rather mundane "life stories" written by average Koreans about their family, their work, their love afairs, their travel, and so on; the kind of things you might expect in a blog, but highly edited. Most of this stuff wouldn't be allowable on Wikinews.

It's highly unlikely that Wikinews will ever employ a "staff" of any kind. I would personally love to see a donation-based fund for citizen reporters to apply for research grants; this could be done within Wikinews or independently thereof. If you have a high reputation based on your previous work, the community would be more likely to agree to a grant being given.



Posted by john burke on August 10, 2005 at 04:21 PM in a. Citizen journalism, i. Future of print | Permalink


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1. Edited Letter as it appeared in the Sun newspaper.
2. Unedited letter I sent to the Sun newspaper.
3. My comments about the editing.

1. This is the edited version of my letter as it appeared in the Sun newspaper.


Quit protecting cardinals

California judges and lawmakers continue to be more protective of molesting priest and Cardinal Roger Mahony than the children who are molested and or raped.

For example, the Los Angeles Archdiocese still faces 544 sexual abuse claims, and Mahony’s lawyers now have turned the documents over to a judge with the orders not to release the information, because it would violate confidentiality between Mahony and priests.

This lack of information given to us Catholics, who do not cherish the bliss of ignorance, leaves us pained and angered by hypocritical politicians, news media and religious leaders worldwide.

The church has spent more than a billion dollars protecting molesters and their bishops and cardinals. This billion dollars could be used to help children in Africa. Mean while, the church’s lawyers are still continuing to fight legislative reform and aggressively keep secrets hidden.

Big Bear Lake

2. This is the unedited letter.

June 18, 2005

Carl G. Mueller, Nam 68
PO Box 120707 (the original 07 doubled)
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315-8944
(909) 866-9310

To Whom It Should Concern:

Subject: God, Curse those protecting child molesters and or rapists.

California Judges and politician lawmakers CONTINUE to be more protecting of the molesting priests and Cardinal Mahony then the children who are molested and or raped.

One possible reason why I think this way is because of what I read in the LA Times Saturday, June 18, 2005, page A-27.
The Los Angeles Archdioceses still faces 544 sexual abuse claims and Cardinal Mahony’s law firm has now turned the documents over to a judge with the orders not to release to the media the information because it would violate confidentiality between Mahony and a priests or bishop.

This lack of information given to us Catholics, who do NOT cherish in the bliss of ignorance, are pained and angered by the hypocritical politicians, new media and religious leaders worldwide. I ask the readers of these words to pray to God to place His burning Curse Of Justice on all those, and their family members, who help in protecting these molesters and or rapists of innocent children.

I also request we vote in new politicians and get rid of LA Times publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson, who cowards down to the insidious Catholic Church, of which I am a member. A church that, according to the above article has spent over a Billion dollars protecting the molester and their bishops and Cardinals. The LA Times sees no need to print how this BILLION dollars could be used to help children in Africa. The article goes on to indicate that church Law Firm(s) are still today continuing to fight state legislatures in the courthouse, and to “aggressively fight legislative reform and aggressively keep secrets hidden.”

Catholic Version of the Bible, ST. Luke Chapter 16, Verse 15:
“You are they who declare yourselves just in the sight of men, but God knows your heart; for that which is exalted in the sight of men is an abomination before God.”

Carl G. Mueller, Nam 68

PS. God, if I’m wrong in requesting Your burning Curse of Justice to be placed on Cardinal Mahony, then place the Curse on me 10 times as hard.


3. My comments about the editing.
June 30, 2005

Mr. Bob Balzer ….. [email protected]
San Bernardino Sun, Publisher and CEO
399 North D Street
San Bernardino, California 92401

Dear Mr.Balzer:
Subject: Thank you and I Bless you and your staff, on this Forth of July Holiday, for a Patriotic Act well done.

I’m referring to your staffs’ quality editing job of my letter sent to the Voice of the People; which was published June 25, 2005, and your newspaper titled it “Quit protecting cardinals”. On the other hand the quality of the editing job was over done when one conceders the seriousness of the subject matter. In my opinion your team edited out much of my emotional and justifiable hate, but I still want you to congratulate them for allowing the phrase “molested and or raped” to appear in my published letter.

Allowing the word raped reinforces why Cardinal Roger Mahony’s legal team(s) might not want the information of accused priests released. I’m sure that Mahony’s legal teams realize that politicians, the Pope and newspaper reading people worldwide, don’t want to view in their mind a child being “raped” by a priest. Thus Mahony’s legal team can feel rather “cunning” knowing that a judge will uphold Mahony’s request to keep the secrets hidden and support the bliss of ignorance about children being raped by priests.

It’s patriotic that a newspaper takes a STRONG stand to help the children and stop Mahony from hiding behind the word molested. Now we need a STRONG patriotic Judge willing to help the children by removing the bliss of ignorance from our politicians.

Thank you also for NOT editing out the fact that the Billion dollars used to protect rapists priests could have been used to help children in Africa.

Carl G. Mueller, Nam 68

The original letter and letters on the same subject can be viewed at:


Posted by: Carl G. Mueller at Aug 25, 2005 10:27:56 PM