WikiTribune is a new and unique news platform founded by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. It’s designed to counter the proliferation of fake news by bringing journalists together with a community of volunteers. The goal is to provide fact-based articles that are impactful, but that can easily be verified and even improved upon, much like the content in Wikipedia.
It’s addressing the problem that’s evolved with the proliferation of the Internet and online advertising. We used to pay for our news by buying newspapers and magazines, which in turn paid for journalists. But we’ve moved to the web where we get much of our news for free, supported by online advertising. That advertising has encouraged articles that are designed to get our attention and clicks to benefit the advertisers, rather than well-researched articles. As a result, real news organizations are competing with low budget pseudo news sites that offer articles that are often inaccurate or worse.
WikiTribune is designed to work like Wikipedia, which involves public participation. Wikipedia is essentially an up-to-date online encyclopedia that allows entries to be created, edited, and corrected by most anyone. The site has over 5 million articles in English and a total of 40 million in nearly 300 languages. That’s equivalent to about 1000 books, each 1200 pages in length.
WikiTribune uses the public to augment the stories, based on citable sources. Stories published in WikiTribune will only be those in which the facts can be verified and with the sources disclosed. The site will have no ads, so there will be no incentive to write stories to get advertising clicks. News will be offered on the website and the stories can be freely shared.
WikiTribune, a non-profit, is now looking for support from the community to hire 10 journalists and is conducting a crowdfunding campaign on its website. Wales writes:
In order to deliver on our promise, we need people who care about good journalism. People like you. Support us in our mission to bring you transparent facts and we’ll build something constructive, something which outwits the prevalence of untrustworthy news sources.
By donating to our campaign, you’ll play a critical part in an energetic surge towards media honesty. It’s a movement that we believe will eventually obliterate low-rent, unreliable news for good. We want to raise enough money up front to get us started – but we need your regular commitment to make sure we can keep improving and delivering on giving you real news.
Jimmy Wales spoke about his new initiative on Quora, an online forum.
He explained that WikiTribune is different from other news platforms in two ways. First, is that WikiTribune will have paid journalists working side by side with community members as equals, and performing such tasks as interviews, fact checking, and editing. Second, there will be no advertising that could influence the integrity and quality of the stories.
The effort will be funded by the communities that sponsor the journalists to write news in their specific areas of interest. The journalists will report independently on their own while using their supporters to provide advice. A crowdfunding campaign will pre-sell monthly support packages to fund the first WikiTribune journalists.
How does Wales define fake news that he’s trying to counter? He explains, “I’m not talking about biased news, or errors made by major publications, nor even irresponsible publication practices taken by what ought to be responsible publications.” He says that “fake news is ‘news’ put forward fraudulently by people just working the system at publications that aren’t really news organizations.”
Why did Wales choose to launch this now? He offered two reasons. He’s been deeply disturbed by how “un-factual the political landscape has become,” and he’s received some volunteer help from friends. Like Wikipedia, this is being run as a non-profit.
How does he compare the work of paid journalists with community volunteers? Wales says there are many things paid journalists can do that volunteers cannot do because of their availability, but he also thinks using paid journalists alone does not guarantee the stories will be more trustworthy or unbiased. He thinks using both paid journalists and volunteers will be greater than either alone.
How will WikiTribune ensure that the stories it features will be fair and balanced? “There is no magic bullet but there are processes and techniques, which I think will help a lot,” Wales said. “First, having neutrality as a central core principle is very powerful. It puts everyone on notice that this is what is intended, and that all our work should be guided by it.”
Wales is also addressing a problem with today’s news that he finds frustrating: There is no one place we can turn to for a story with an accounting of what we know so far that can be continually updated.
In addition, he thinks by having a community of volunteers who are equals, this will reduce groupthink where everyone agrees. “I fully expect to see things like: a journalist writes a story, uses some biased language, and the community tones it down and makes sure that the journalist isn’t drawing conclusions,“ he said.
Wales will continue to run Wikipedia, referring to it as his life work.
WikiTribune is a fascinating experiment that relies on the community to create compelling journalism. It will be interesting to see how well it will work.