Britannica editorial board

Britannica announces new editorial board

The Encyclopædia Britannica made a response to the challenge it faces from Wikipedia last week, getting some publicity for its announcement of the formation of an editorial advisory board. This group of luminaries is supposed to help maintain Britannica's standards "while making sure it remains relevant to the way people use information today."

The announcement was the focus of a detailed article by Eric Ferkenhoff in the Boston Globe, "Venerable encylopedia seeks just the facts". Ferkenhoff painted the move as an effort to reassert authoritative sources of information "in an age when the Internet has loosened the definition of what is factual." The story was also covered more briefly in the Washington Times [1].

As reported by the Globe, the board "will meet twice a year to plot the direction for Britannica and fine-tune its editorial content". The idea of an advisory board is not new, but it had not been in operation at Britannica for over a decade. Wendy Doniger, the only holdover from the previous board, indicated that it last met in 1995, falling out of use shortly after the debut of Britannica's online edition.

Board composition

Although the board was announced with a press release on Thursday, the composition of the board has already been available on Britannica's website for some time. In fact, the Wikipedia biographies of a number of the board members were updated in June to reflect their participation.

Britannica billed the advisory board as comprising "fifteen of the world's leading scholars and intellectuals". Besides Doniger, the members of the new board include Rosalía Arteaga, David Baltimore, Benjamin M. Friedman, Leslie Gelb, Murray Gell-Mann, Vartan Gregorian, Zaha Hadid, James M. McPherson, Thomas Nagel, Donald Norman, Don Michael Randel, Amartya Sen, Wole Soyinka, and Lord Sutherland.

Wikipedia should perhaps be embarrassed that it does not have an article on Gelb at this writing (Update: a new article now exists), and that a number of the articles are nothing more than stubs. Then again, a search of Britannica's online edition revealed that it only contained articles for five of its own board members — Baltimore, Gell-Mann, Hadid, Sen, and Soyinka. They do, however, all have brief biographies available on the corporate information page about the editorial board.

Some observers wondered how much substantive improvement to Britannica's product would result from this new announcement. Jeremy Wagstaff noted that the Globe article quoted Jimmy Wales in addition to the Britannica's chief editor and some of the board members, but suggested that Britannica was allowed to "put a bit too much of their spin on the story." David Weinberger said, "It seems to be primarily a PR effort".

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

No comments yet. Yours could be the first!


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0