A major Wikipedia news scoop, in publishing that Andrea Dworkin had died before any other source knew about it, echoed around the internet last week as many bloggers picked up on the slow-breaking news of her death.
On a newsblog run by The Guardian, Simon Jeffery noted that Wikipedia had posted her date of death more than 24 hours before The Guardian's own obituary, the first to be printed in by a major news outlet. Jeffery opened his entry, "Wikipedia — first with the news", by quoting blogger Joe Gratz's comment, "Imagine an encyclopedia that had someone’s death noted in their biography before the first major news outlet had even published an obituary. That’s Wikipedia."
Events in recent weeks have shown Wikipedia's speed in updating biographical entries with news of the subject's death. In closely-watched situations like Pope John Paul II and Terry Schiavo, Wikipedia's entries were updated essentially simultaneously with media reports. After being one of the first sites to note recent deaths like those of Johnnie Cochran and Mitch Hedberg, Wikipedia clearly beat mainstream sources on this news.
The process of confirming this event to the satisfaction of the editors working on the article took nearly an entire day itself. Dworkin's date of death was originally added by Stockma at 01:58 (UTC) on 10 April, a few hours after the event. The account's only contributions were to update Dworkin's biography and add her to the list of people who died on 9 April.
Because the news could not be confirmed in any media sources, Moink reverted the article at 11:59 (UTC) to remove the information. Discussion continued on the talk page, and Viajero restored it at 16:11 (UTC). Diderot remained concerned that the information was all third-hand and smacked of rumor, so he removed it again at 18:16 (UTC). Moink finally restored the death date at 22:41 (UTC), after receiving forwarded emails from another Wikipedian that contained enough detail for the report to appear credible.
Since The Guardian did not run its story until shortly before 18:00 (UTC) on 11 April, Wikipedia scooped the mainstream media on this story by anywhere from 19 to 40 hours, depending on how one accounts for the back-and-forth edits as the issue was being debated. The difficulty of convincing other Wikipedia editors of the veracity of breaking news is a challenge that has been encountered previously in similar situations, as with the unrest in Belize earlier this year, when someone provides information ahead of mainstream media sources.
Jeffery said the situation likewise caused some confusion at The Guardian, "unused as we were to researching a news story and finding Wikipedia the sole supporting published source, breaking the news in its own quiet and understated manner." He pointed to the talk page discussion in his post, and blogger Earl Mardle also commented on the open process used to verify the information. Mardle predicted, "For now Wikipedia people still defer to the corporate media for confirmation but as citizen journalism gains confidence and resources, that will fade."