The recent closing of an English Wikipedia request for comment (RfC) on the reliability of British tabloid The Daily Mail as a source has drawn wide press attention. The Guardian first covered the story (February 8), followed by a piece in Engadget (Feb. 9), and a flurry of coverage in various outlets extending for more than a week.
Some coverage described the decision as a "ban," and some in the Wikipedia community have objected to the use of the term. The text in the RFC stated that the source is "generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist." Many editors have long avoided using the newspaper, which in a pre-Internet world was known outside Britain as being lampooned by The Smiths in 1986's The Queen Is Dead ("Charles don't you ever crave, to appear on the front of the Daily Mail, dressed in your mother's bridal veil.")
The Daily Mail responded, quoted first in a Press Gazette story (February 10). The response rambled from one point to another, stating that the Daily Mail had banned Wikipedia as a source in 2014 (and why not before?), mocking the editor who initiated the RFC, and suggesting procedural problems in the decision. Signpost editor Pete Forsyth published a point-by-point rebuttal (February 13), which was featured on the front page of medium.com. According to a public statement from the RFC initiator, personnel from the Daily Mail also paid an unannounced and unwelcome visit to a family member of his; responding to a Signpost inquiry, he added that they had returned a second time. He also speculated that the Daily Mail's characterization of him as a "clearly obsessive newspaper-hater" may have derived from an abandoned project of his, dubbed the "Tabloid Terminator," in which he sought to improve sourcing in prominent biographies. Jimmy Wales publicly invited the Wikipedian to contact him for assistance.
The story continued to expand. AdWeek, Al Arabiya, and Mashable joined the fun, and there were more news blips (CNN, Fox News, Newsweek). Some, including the original Guardian story, quoted a response from the Wikimedia Foundation.
Responding to a question about whether commentary from Wikipedia administrators, rather than the WMF, might have made a better focal point for his initial story and his February 12 followup piece, Guardian reporter Jasper Jackson said "I do and I did confirm various details with people involved." He added that "it could be easier for a reporter to contact Wikipedia administrators, and some sort of easily available contact information, ie an email address, would be helpful." Jackson may continue covering the piece, and he invites commentary via Twitter or email.
Slate's Will Oremus generally praised Wikipedia's decision and its transparent and deliberate nature, but he cautioned that "Wikipedia's [often non-expert] editors are opening a dangerous box by targeting specific news outlets for blanket prohibitions. Bans are binary, whereas journalistic credibility lies on a spectrum." The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard wrote: "The concept of 'ban' on Wikipedia is a strange one since anybody can edit an article. This is more like an agreement among Wikipedia's most active editors to try to address the problem by not linking to Daily Mail articles and by editing sources that do link to them."
As numerous other media piled on, editors at Wikipedia's Reliable Sources noticeboard had mixed reactions. In a series of tweets quoted by "Political Scrapbook", Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said the "...organization did not decide this, contributors did," affirming that the Wikimedia Foundation had not participated in the decision.
Wikipedia's article on the Daily Mail has been semi-protected since January 2013, preventing direct edits from new Wikipedia contributors.
Thanks for reaching out. We’d be happy to share a comment from the Wikimedia Foundation on the recent outcome of a discussion among volunteer editors around the use of the Daily Mail as a reliable source on English Wikipedia. One point of clarity -- A number of outlets have called this move a “ban.” This is not a blanket ban, but a general statement from volunteer editors on the reliability of the source for use on English Wikipedia. Also, I should mention that as the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects, the Wikimedia Foundation generally does not set editorial policy on Wikipedia. That is up to volunteer editors around the world who contribute to the site. Editors have discussed the reliability of the Daily Mail since at least early 2015. In January 2017, an RfC (Request for Comment) discussion was proposed to evaluate the use of the Daily Mail as a reliable source on English Wikipedia. This is one of many community discussions that take place every day about a broad range of issues, including reliable sources. In this case, volunteer editors seem to have come to a consensus that the Daily Mail is “generally unreliable and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist.” This means that there is a general recommendation according to this discussion that the Daily Mail not be referenced as a "reliable source" on English Wikipedia or used to demonstrate an article subject’s notability. That said, we encourage everyone to read the comments in the RfC itself. You will find considerable discussion on the topic, including views both for and against the proposal. Wikipedia is a living, breathing ecosystem where volunteers regularly discuss and evolve the norms that guide the encyclopedia. Among Wikipedia’s many policies and guidelines, there is even a policy to ignore all rules. It captures the open spirit of the community: “If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it.” As a general guide to reliable sources, articles on Wikipedia should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. Editors assess the reliability of a source at these levels: The piece of work itself (the article, book), the creator of the work (the writer, journalist), the publisher of the work (for example, Random House or Cambridge University Press). They also use a variety of criteria to evaluate reliability within each of these levels. For example, one signal that a news organization engages in fact-checking and has a reputation for accuracy is the publication of corrections.