Monday, June 13, 2011


I've already given a few thoughts on Wikipedia (here and here) but Martha Nichols at Athena's Head, has  few worthwhile words on the topic as well. It's worth the read.

The piece begins, "Much as I appreciate Wikipedia’s Book of the World and its many temptations, I’ve come to see it as a geek Satan." [...]

Yes, you know me, too. I hate looking clueless, especially in front of my eight-year-old son. But what I hate more is losing the foundation for all truth in a constantly fracturing informationscape. And now I find that one of Wikipedia’s founders, Larry Sanger, would like to disown his creation.
However, here’s Problem Number One: Wikipedia entries employ the “objective,” third-person voice of the expert, yet Wikipedians are “largely anonymous” according to the site. So there’s no one to hold accountable for errors. If other writers edit those entries, readers have no way of telling who those anonymous revisers are either.

Standard news writers employ the god-like voice, too, but they have bylines. In journalistic terms, stories develop; the news cycle indicates the way information changes over time.

The crucial point is that writers with bylines remain accountable. The name on the story is responsible for making mistakes, and corrections are noted (at least they’re supposed to be). That’s why I use my name, online and in print, when I’m writing nonfiction. Readers may hate what I have to say, but they know who to point the finger at.

This is the nub of what’s often referred to as the need for “media literacy” in schools: helping students to distinguish between primary and secondary sources—and to sniff out bias and hidden agendas. Yet think about how many school teachers point kids to Wikipedia and nowhere else.

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