Participatory Journalism -- "The Act Term Paper


Consensus vs. Credentials -- Scholarship implies a certain level of expertise on a given subject. The public must trust its sources, and those sources must be authoritative and peer reviewed. Most anyone can "read up" on a subject, but lack the rigorous academic analysis required in graduate school -- the pool that forms experts. Individuals may, or may not be, familiar with the latest in scholarship because they may or may not have access to the journals within a given field, or have the time to attend conferences to listen to the new directions and discoveries that academics are paid to pursue (Boyd, 2005).

Reliability and Accuracy -- Without any general editors, fact checkers, or other controls, Wikipedia encourages those without verifiable credentials to present material on which no one knows if they have any expertise. The hope, of course, is that peers online will edit and correct major errors, but there is certainly no guarantee that article x with fact y can be verified (Waldman, 2004).

Sourcing -- There is no control over sourcing, and it is left up to other editors or readers to comment on sources they are unable to find, or analyze. Because the sourcing requirements are so vague, the quality of sources is variable, and up to the expertise and abilities of the individual editor. This, to many, creates an environment in which a literal "feeding frenzy" of misinformation passes through Wikipedia on a daily basis, particularly on Wikinews and issues that are just starting (deaths, assassinations, etc.). For example, critics point to the issues surrounding the death of Enron Executive Kenneth Lay. News organizations began reporting Lay's death around 10am EST, within 6 minutes after Wikipedia had an entry labeling his death as "apparent suicide." Within minutes, that phrase was changed to "an apparent heart attack or suicide," and almost immediately to "yet to be determined" (Ahrens, 2006).

Wikipedia in the Schools -- Students are turning in papers citing Wikipedia without much thought as to the accuracy of the information. Knowing what sources to trust is becoming more of a labor-intensive exercise; blogs, for instance, may be run by certified and qualified individuals -- or they may be nothing more than opinion. The idea that "the source might be wrong" is a skill not usually mastered until college, but now required in Elementary schools because of the plethora of online sources. With Wikipedia, too, each of its entries is a collaboratively written research report -- it's not exposition or defense of a thesis -- just the opposite (Richardson, 2006).

The other side of the critique

. Systematic bias and inconsistency -- Wikipedia admits that it "suffers systemic bias that naturally grows from its contributors' demographic groups, manifesting as imbalanced coverage of a subject, thereby discriminating against the less represented demographic groups. This project aims to control and (possibly) eliminate the cultural perspective gaps made by the systemic bias, consciously focusing upon subjects and point-of-view neglected by the encyclopedia as a whole" (Wikipedia: Wikiproject).However, one of the mandates of the site is to concentrates upon remedying omissions (entire topics, or particular sub-topics in extant articles) rather than on either (1) protesting inappropriate inclusions, or (2) trying to remedy issues of how material is presented. Over time, the system will correct itself -- articles that are highly opinionated or completely unsubstantiated will be reedited or removed. Simply by Wikipedia being aware of a potential for demographic bias, the neutral point-of-view, while not always successful, encourages a more balanced approach (Glaser, 2006).

Emphasis on Popular Culture -- Of course popular culture is emphasized by many editors in Wikipedia. It is the news of today without waiting for the process of review, publication, and final distribution -- all which could take years. Why be upset about popular culture, it is the most relevant to society, and why not allow a system of review and editing on a subject that has not been around long enough to have the depth of research necessary to call it scholarly?

Consensus vs. Credentials -- If having an MA or PhD behind one's name was all it took to prove credibility there would be no need for peer-reviewing in the academic field, for conferences to listen to, and challenge ideas, and to have an open, academic debate about the interpretation of data. Scholars vehemently disagree with each other, even on minute points or supposed facts. It is true that Wikipedia prefers consensus, but that is a simply formulaic issue -- the more people that research...


The sample included 42 articles on scientific topics, including biographies of well-known scientists. The articles were compared for accuracy by academic reviewers that remained anonymous ? A customary practice for journal article reviews. Based on their review, the average Wikipedia article contained 4 errors or omissions; the average Britannica article, 3. The study concluded: "Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries, a Nature investigation finds"(Giles, 2005).
Encyclopaedia Britannica's initial concerns led to Nature releasing further documentation of its survey method. Based on this additional information, Encyclopaedia Britannica denied the validity of the Nature study, claiming that it was "fatally flawed" as the Britannica extracts were compilations that sometimes included articles written for the youth version ("Fatally Flawed," 2006). Nature acknowledged the compiled nature of some of the Britannica extracts, but disputed the claim that this invalidated the conclusions of the study ("Britannic Attacks," 2006). Encyclopaedia Britannica also argued that the Nature study showed that while the error rate between the two encyclopedias was similar, a breakdown of the errors indicated that the mistakes in Wikipedia were more often the inclusion of incorrect facts, while the mistakes in Britannica were "errors of omission," claiming that "Britannica was far more accurate than Wikipedia, according to the figures; the journal simply misrepresented its own results." Nature has since rejected the Britannica response, and published a point-by-point response to Britannica's specific objections about alleged errors ("Nature's Response," 2006).

Sourcing -- Sourcing is as critical for Wikipedia as it is for any other site, book, magazine, or article. All share the same standards of journalism -- accuracy and integrity. It is not the position of the websites themselves to police their own 100% of the time, but it is the responsibility of parent and the school, working together to understand both empathy and individual responsibility toward one's own writing. The sourcing issue must begin with the editing process, too, and over the past few years, the number of "Citation Needed" comments have dramatically increased. The idea of truth in sources, though, is a large epistemological argument. It is about inclusion as well as exclusion -- witness academic debate (Garfinkle, 2008).

Wikipedia in the Schools -- It is true that Wikipedia articles are not a thesis, as well as that they are collaboratively written -- that is part of the strength of the site. However, it is important that at an early age students begin to realize that just because something is on the Internet, does not make it true. What better way to help students learn to critically analyze information that to have them look at a Wikipedia article, each source, and decide whether those authors have done a credible job using credible sources. If teachers to not tell students how to understand the vetting process for sourcing, they will not learn. This is no different, one might say, than the student of yesterday grabbing the World Book, turning to the page on the Platypus, and coping what the page said -- just because it is on the Internet does not make it a nefarious activity, rather one to use in the educational process. However, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, called Wikipedia one of the most accurate encyclopedias in the world (Richardson, 63).

Conclusions -- The world in 2009 is a very different place than it was even two decades ago. Information increases far more rapidly than anyone can possibly keep up -- whether that be in their own field or simply an interest area. For that reason alone, online data sources are a requirement -- especially ones that ask several thousand people to review an article or two. In the same manner, the quality of sources and unbiased nature of any subject must be a part of Internet experience. Wikipedia should not be used as the sole source for any paper or academic document, nor is it designed to be. Instead, it should always be approached with the same degree of caution and analysis that any source, Internet or not. Without proper critical thinking skills, students and public alike will not be able to look at sources and accurately differentiate between an…

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