The New York Times ran another detailed front-page article about Wikipedia last week, this time focusing on page protection and the adoption of a semi-protection feature. The Katie Hafner story, published on Saturday, was headlined "Growing Wikipedia Revises Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy".
This comes a couple of weeks after a recent discussion about semi-protection involving Jimmy Wales and Nicholas Carr, who was also quoted by the Times as a Wikipedia critic (see archived story). The policies reported on by Hafner are not particularly new, as semi-protection was implemented last December. Full protection was getting press coverage as much as two years ago, for example with the handling of articles on George W. Bush and John Kerry leading up to the 2004 US presidential election. However, it seems to have been news to Carr and to the New York Times.
The story noted various phenomena that may lead to page protection, such as vandalism and revert wars. It also gave a number of examples of pages that either are or have been protected (either fully or semi-protected). The following day saw more coverage along similar lines from The Observer, "Wikipedia fights off cyber vandals".
Wales responded with a blog entry calling the New York Times story "exactly backwards". As in his previous dialogue with Carr, he argued that semi-protection is "a softer, more open approach" in contrast to full protection. Kat Walsh expressed disappointment with how the article dealt with the role of administrators, an issue she had discussed extensively with Hafner. The story characterized Wikipedia as having a "clear power structure" in which administrators "exercise editorial control".
The Cunctator commented that the dispute over whether these policies make Wikipedia more or less open is really "a semantic game". He argued that neither side was truly right, but that the position taken by the Times was important as a challenge that would test Wikipedia's commitment to maintaining its ideals.
The coverage prompted a flurry of work to further tweak the semi-protection template that appears on affected articles. AlisonW questioned the use of a banner warning on semi-protected articles, pointing out that "vast majority of editors will be able to edit a semi-protected page" and wouldn't need or benefit from the warning. At last check, the banner has now been replaced with a simple icon () that appears in the top right of the page, an idea borrowed from the Dutch Wikipedia. Although the use of such metadata icons has also been controversial (see archived story), concerns so far were mostly limited to ensuring that it appears correctly in different layout skins. Presumably this use will not overlap much with the other primary function of metadata icons, identification of featured articles, since protection of those is generally discouraged.