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The Good And Bad In WikiTribune, Wikipedia Founder's Open-Source News Site

Shanthi Rexaline

Countering the fake news threat has become a real challenge for social media platforms, which also serve as avenues of news dissemination along with the traditional media outlets.

When Facebook Inc (NASDAQ: FB) recently said it, along with a consortium, is investing $14 million into the creation of a News Integrity Initiative, it came as a no surprise and reflected the kind of menace fake news is turning out to be.

Wikipedia founder James Wales is also part of the initiative spearheaded by Facebook, with academicians and non-profit organizations also joining them.

A Wikipedia-Founder Initiative

Wales for his part has also opted to go solo, launching WikiTribune, which is being promoted with the tagline evidence-based journalism.

WikiTribune identifies itself as a news platform that brings journalists and a community of volunteers together. "We want to make sure that you read fact-based articles that have a real impact in both local and global events. And that stories can be easily verified and improved," it said.

How WikiTribune Plans To Purge News

In a bid to present unbiased news with real facts, WikiTribune looks to ensure journalists write articles based on only verifiable facts. And it would present the sources to readers so that a reader can make up his own mind without being presented with prejudiced information.

WikiTribune is planning to take the advertisers out of the equation, as it is supposed to be 100-percent ad-free. In the process, the parties involved do not have any vested interest in anything other than providing real news. The website doesn't have any paywall, thereby giving access to everyone.

In order to involve community members, who otherwise have their say in the form of comments in the bottom of the article, WikiTribune intends to have professional journalists and community members work side by side as equals, supported by readers and not advertisers. These readers can take the role of monthly supporters. To increase transparency, WikiTribune intends to publish financials regularly.

Joining Wales would be a luminary of advisors, including former Apple marketing wizard Guy Kawasaki, renowned journalist Jeff Jarvis, English actress Lily Cole and academician and political activist Larry Lessig.

Banking On Supporters

WikiTribune intends to raise finances from supporters, who it said really care about good journalism. Apart from plans to raise enough money upfront to get started, it seeks regular commitments from supporters to help in delivering real news.

And it seeks to channelize the money raised to finance hiring journalists rather than splurging on expensive offices.

WikiTribune suggested that it would refund all its supporters, minus transaction fees, if it doesn't achieve its goal of hiring ten journalists.

As of now, the website claimed to have 10,214 supporters and hired six of the 10 journalists targeted.

The Good That Can Come From WikiTribune

Objective reporting has suffered so much in recent times that there has been a real thirst for real news. The results of a survey by Fox News showed that 84 percent voters surveyed said they are concerned fake news is hurting the country, with 61 percent saying they are very worried and 23 percent suggesting they are somewhat concerned.

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that majority of the surveyed voters could not differentiate real news and fake news. One of the pressing problems many now quote is the cognizance of trusted source of information.

Against this backdrop, when someone offers to take upon them the onus of delivering trusted news and information, it is a more than welcome development.

The Bad: Pitfalls Of Fact-Focus

News would tend to be the mere recitation of facts, with attributions to support the facts, if it takes the route of being merely fact-focused. This is unlikely to help readers in a big way. According to an article in ABC News, a proper journalist should sift through the facts, weigh them up and make editorial judgments about their relative strength and importance, and then present them in a way that illuminates the truth of a matter.

"This process of making editorial judgments about facts is fundamental to great journalism," the article said.

Making editorial judgment brings in an element of bias, which defeats the very purpose of which the news site is being launched.

A case in point is news sites such as PolitiFact that operate under the premise of extra rigorous evidence-based reporting have been criticized for a myopic interpretation of information. Such an approach promotes the idea that there is no room for differing or contrary interpretations to a news item.

There are doubts whether the editorial policy on the site will succeed in being as transparent as it promises and really fix the problem of fake news or just create a technocratic alternative to corporate media. Additionally, the fact-focused mechanical reporting may not augur well for the letter and spirit of reporting per se.

Related News:

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Image Credit: By Wikitribune - https://www.wikitribune.com/, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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