Real Writers Address Wikipedia

What do journalists say about Wikipedia? Here are some selections:

“One thing I do find disturbing is what seems to be the unquestioned confidence placed upon Wikipedia as being a reliable source of information.
The expression “Wik-it” is becoming as popular as “Google-it.” Another concern I have with Wikipedia there is no independent and credible verification of the information they are making available to the public. How many students are using Wikipedia as a learning and research tool in school?
If Wikipedia’s information is to be considered reliable, people will need to confirm what they find there in other independent references like libraries, reference books and newspapers.”

–Mark Ollig
“The Pros and Cons of Wikipedia”

“Perhaps the most notorious culprit is Wikipedia. Equal parts online encyclopedia, almanac and tabloid, it is exhaustively comprehensive but also corruptible because its content can be submitted and edited by users who are not always qualified or objective. And the temptation to abandon the long quest for multiple, accurate sources and settle down in a monogamous relationship with Wikipedia can prove almost overwhelming — especially to the busy college student.

Therein lies the challenge for local institutions of higher education: Training students to think critically about their research without discouraging them from following the trail of breadcrumbs that so often begins with sites like Wikipedia. Instructors say the solution, if it can be called that, is to allow students to use Wikipedia as a springboard for greater discovery.”

–Nathaniel West
September 3, 2008
“The pros and cons of Wikipedia”
Journal Gazette and Times Courier online

“Loads of journalists – probably far more than would admit it – use Wikipedia as a major source of information for our stories.
But as one Irish student demonstrated, the wiki model of gathering information from a crowd leaves the site prone to inaccuracies, either intentional or accidental.
(Incidentally, companies should keep these shortcomings in mind as they develop internal wiki sites for knowledge sharing and problem solving purposes.)
In the Case of the Irish Student (which sounds like a Sherlock Holmes case, but isn’t), Wikipedia actually caught and removed the fake quote the student had submitted to a recently deceased French composer Maurice Jarre’s biographical page, but news outlets around the world integrated the quote into their obituaries of the composer nonetheless.
The moral of the story? Factchecking is key.

Using Wikipedia is fine for getting familiar with the background of a subject, particularly a technical or obscure one. But journalists – whether professional or respectable amateurs – have a responsibility to dig deeper and look for secondary sources with which to check their facts.
Theoretically, Wikipedia can even serve as a guide to factchecking, since many Wikipedia pages have footnotes leading to primary sources. Of course, the authenticity or authority of these sources also needs to be considered carefully by any researcher.

“Commentary — Pros and cons (especially the cons) ofWikipedia”
May 14, 2009

“[According to a Wikipedia spokesperson] “Wikipedia is the ideal place to start your research and get a global picture of a topic, however, it is not an authoritative source. In fact, we recommend that students check the facts they find in Wikipedia against other sources. Additionally, it is generally good research practice to cite an original source when writing a paper, or completing an exam. It’s usually not advisable, particularly at the university level, to cite an encyclopedia.”

Roy Rosenzweig, director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, did an analysis of the accuracy of Wikipedia for The Journal of American History, and he found that in many entries, Wikipedia was as accurate or more accurate than more traditional encyclopedias. He said that the quality of material was inconsistent, and that biographical entries were generally well done, while more thematic entries were much less so. Like Ordonez, he said the real problem is one of college students using encyclopedias when they should be using more advanced sources.
“College students shouldn’t be citing encyclopedias in their papers,” he said. “That’s not what college is about. They either should be using primary sources or serious secondary sources.”

Students face “an ocean of information” today, much of it of poor quality, so a better approach would be to teach students how to “triangulate” a source like Wikipedia, so they could use other sources to tell whether a given entry could be trusted.

— Scott Jaschik
“A Stand Against Wikipedia”
January 26, 2007
Inside Higher Ed