Webcred conference

Blogosphere reacts to Wikipedia after Harvard conference

In the aftermath of the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility conference (wikinews coverage), the credibility of online information sources was again a topic in the media over the past week. A lot of discussion in the press and among bloggers came out of the conference, and while much of it focused on blogging and its relationship to journalism, or debated the merits of the conference itself, Wikipedia also continued to receive attention along with the fledgling Wikinews project.

The conference itself was held at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government on January 21-22. In spite of its title, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was among those invited, partly because of the relationship between Wikinews and the concept of blogs as citizen journalism. As a result, quite a bit of the discussion as it involved Wikipedia was on the relationship between blogs and wikis.

With respect to issues about what people need to disclose about themselves and their activities, something that has been a hot topic in the blogosphere recently, several people noted the ability of Wikipedians to be completely anonymous if they wish. In contrast with the Wikipedia system, where credibility and trust are developed in group editing, Dave Winer observed that authority among blogs worked differently, often based on how one blog tends to be spawned from another.

Positive and negative reviews

While media coverage of the conference centered on the "blogging and journalism" portion, the blogs themselves did take some note of Wikipedia's involvement. Posting last Wednesday, conference participant Jay Rosen focused the last section of his three-part summary of the event on Wikipedia and "the Wiki Buzz," collecting the reactions other participants had provided for him.

In response to Rosen's request for "one thing you changed your mind about," Zephyr Teachout said she had reversed her opinion about Wikipedia's goals: "I thought that Wikipedia was a community dedicated to openness first, product second. And I learned that they are first and foremost a purpose-based community, with openness as a critical principle, but a secondary one."

Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon noted that they found less conflict between blogs and wikis than they expected. Zuckerman commented that both shared a fundamental amateur quality (not to be equated with unprofessionalism, however), while MacKinnon said she was no longer as skeptical about NPOV as applied to journalism.

Rosen himself noted shared ideals between Wikipedians and journalists: "The professional community of journalists, like the Wiki community, is a bunch of people who, strange as it sounds, believe strongly in the virtues of neutral description." The difference he found was in the nature of the working environment: "The Wiki people are learning how neutrality works when there are "open" conditions, rather than the closed ranks of a profession."

Not all opinions were quite so favorable. Participant Karen Schneider, a librarian and blogger representing the conference co-sponsor American Library Association, noted in her blog that she rejects NPOV as a concept. She also apparently misheard some of Wales' comments, quoting him as saying Wikinews was "not exactly neutral," when he actually said this about Indymedia.

The one mention of Wikipedia in traditional print media to come out of the conference was in a column by Ed Cone (another conference attendee) of the Greensboro News & Record, a North Carolina newspaper that has gained attention for its efforts to incorporate community participation and blogging. In his column, "Making inside of newsroom as big as outside," Cone said of Wikipedia, "The free encyclopedia is trustworthy, huge, multilingual and growing, and is produced for only a fraction of what gets spent by traditional competitors."

Other notes

In talking about Wikinews at the conference, Wales emphasized a recent incident involving civil unrest in Belize starting 20 January, where Wikinews "scooped" the major news agencies on the story. With respect to the reliability of the story, he pointed out the effort put into confirming this story after the firsthand reports of Belizian, noting that there had initially been an edit war on Current events (one of the participants was even blocked briefly) because of concerns over whether the reports were reliable.

Perhaps the most eagerly endorsed idea from the conference, and one which could be of significant benefit to Wikipedians researching historical matters online, was the suggestion that newspapers could make more money off their archives through advertising than by charging for access. Rosen has been one of those pushing for this access, and Dan Gillmor advocated its feasibility after the conference in an extensive economic analysis called "Newspapers: Open Your Archives."

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