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Journalist regrets not checking citation; PR firms issue advice on how to survive Wikipedia (and a U.S. Congressman's office is accused of copying)

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By Strange Passerby and Skomorokh

Wikipedia in the spotlight again after newspaper blunder

Ice hockey manager Mike Gillis criticised the Toronto Star this week for publishing a quotation attributed to him on Wikipedia without checking that he actually said it.

Wikipedia and its ability to be freely edited by anyone has again come under media scrutiny this week after the Toronto Star published a falsified quote attributed to Mike Gillis, the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team, made about former Canucks forward Rick Rypien, who died earlier this week. (The story was later corrected with an accompanying apology, after Gillis and the Canucks criticised the newspaper in a statement.) This is not the first time that journalists have made such a blunder; for example, many newspapers included an erroneous quotation attributed to Maurice Jarre after his death in 2009 (see previous Signpost coverage).

An intern at the Star had found a quote supposedly by Gillis on Wikipedia attributed to the Vancouver Sun, and did not verify its accuracy before including it in his story. His editor likewise assumed that the quote was accurate, as the story did not reference Wikipedia. As a result, Michael Cooke, the Editor of the Star, sent out an internal memo telling writers to verify the accuracy of information obtained from Wikipedia. In the memo, he noted numerous problems with his own biography in Wikipedia, including the fact that "up until a month ago it had me graduating from a university in New Zealand. I have never stepped foot in that country. Other errors remain."

In response, Kathy English, the public editor at the Star, has written an opinion piece titled "Don't trust Wikipedia". In it, she cites a Wikipedia essay, "10 things you did not know about Wikipedia", which says "we do not expect you to trust us", and ends her piece by noting that journalists must know what information to trust, in order to maintain their readers' trust.

A discussion on the administrator's noticeboard highlighted the fact that the quote had been sourced to an online reference (which the Star writer had failed to check), initially reproducing the original faithfully, but then tampered with by a vandal.

The public relations professional's guide to Wikipedia

Recently, several online publications have focused on a topic of recurring relevance to Wikipedia editors intent on policing its strict policy on neutrality: questionable editing of the encyclopaedia by public relations professionals. The search engine result prominence of Wikipedia, the apparent openness of editing, and its perceived status as a "good enough" authority of neutrality and illumination for a wide breadth of topics make direct engagement with the site perennially attractive to those tasked with improving the online profile of celebrities, products and institutions.

For example, edSocialMedia have released a guide to Wikipedia for educational institutions, advising the addition of flattering photographs, promotional Facebook links, and lists of prominent alumni, and highlighting the Worcester Academy article as a particularly well-written article in the latter regard. Ragan's PR Daily also issued guidance, but noted the potential ethical difficulties for public relations professionals seeking to engage with the encyclopaedia; the four "rules of engagement" offered were "establish notability', "be transparent", "avoid jargon", and "ask for help". In a press release for its own guide, adopted a wary tone, with media relations consultant Oliver Thompson counselling would-be editors of the "dark side" of the project; that "Wikipedia can easily become a trap," and "If used improperly, Wikipedia can get you expelled for plagiarism, can torpedo your term paper grade, can cause professional embarrassment and all sorts of headaches. People need to use Wikipedia with proper tools." Its extensive and well-informed "Wikipedia Survival Guide" encouraged prospective contributors to "read other Wikipedia entries first", "balance opposing views", "for every assertion or claim, offer support", "keep the correct hierarchy of sources in mind", and "no anonymous edits". Notable by its omission was seeking recourse to Wikipedia's internal help network, which is undergoing revision to counter accusations of hostility towards newcomers.


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  • We need quote marks around "Wikipedia:10 things you did not know about Wikipedia" because it is the title of an article, and maybe the word "Wikipedia's" right in front of it. At first I thought it was an essay that the newspaper had written." Yours, GeorgeLouis (talk) 07:09, 23 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Beyond the fact that I am disappointed we didn't catch that bit of vandalism when it happened, I have to admit that I find it hilarious that it was the Star that got caught with its pants down. One of their biggest name sportswriters is a prominent anti-blogger zealot whose entire argument is based on the concept that the mainstream media is reliable, while everyone else is not. Don't trust Wikipedia? Yup. You'd be a fool to blindly trust us if you are working in a serious pursuit. But the other lesson here is Don't trust the Star. Resolute 00:54, 23 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Congressmen and content

Readers may be interested to know that for the last election cycle in the US, the Foundation office ran an aggressive education campaign with candidates for office. Together with Craig Newmark, we met with representatives of major party committees and discussed appropriate use of Wikipedia, including giving them a pipeline to OTRS so that they felt they could get quick resolution to electioneering online, in order to prevent turning Wikipedia into a battleground. It seems that last cycle that was enormously effective. If you're interested in joining in that effort this time around, please contact me.  :) - Philippe Beaudette, Wikimedia Foundation (talk) 01:06, 23 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Wikipedia at Pune University

The Wikipedia:India Education Program at Pune University, part of the Foundation's Global Education Program, has gotten off to a great start. -- Donald Albury 11:42, 23 August 2011 (UTC)[reply]


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