Jimmy Wales on Wikitribune and his interest in local news content

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikitribune / Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has spoken of his desire to use his news platform, Wikitribune to work with local newspapers in a bid to help revive their fortunes around the world.

The platform seeks to solve the problem of clickbait low-quality journalism and the spread of fake news by bringing community members into the virtual newsroom to work side-by-side with paid professional journalists.

Speaking to The Drum about the news platform, which is set to go live in beta over the coming weeks, Wales offered his reasons for starting the site and how he plans to grow it using crowdfunded revenue to pay journalists' salaries.

"We're really interested in partnerships and one of the things at Wikitribune that I'm interested in is partnering with small town newspapers and finding ways to work around that," he explained, citing his local newspaper the Huntsville Times which was previously daily but now only publishes three days a week.

"A lot of what they run news is from Associated Press, so it's national news. The hit to local journalism is substantial and that is important to society," he stated claiming that some events, such as Presidential briefings (whenever the press are actually allowed to attend) are over reported with over 100 journalists all reporting the same thing, while other events are missed due to a lack of attendance.

"If you go to a small town, a lot of small towns have gone from eight reporters to one, it's devastating," he said.

He admitted that the issue is a global one and claimed it was partly this lack of local journalism that led to Trump's election win as no one was listening to the feelings of middle America.

"They have lost their local newspaper," Wales said. "So I'm interested in how we can help; if my knowledge of communities can help me build a system where we harness quality communities to help journalism in a way that old media organisations have had a hard time doing."

"No one really understands how Wikipedia works at all. If we can find some formulas so that we can help some communities produce quality news at lower cost, that's a big part of the equation," he added.

Wales said he would love local communities working with his journalists and would consider releasing content under a license to local newspapers. Despite the migration of readers to digital news, he is still "tickled" by printed content.

"My community would like that because if they are to volunteer their time to help create journalism, it would need to have impact... I'm interested in that but we're not doing any of those partnerships yet," he said.

Wales also discussed the potential for advertising running on the site and Wikipedia one day in the future, as well as the gender skew towards males that his fan base and platforms attracts.

Wikitribune was recently awarded €385,000 of funding from Google's Digital News Initiative (DNI) Innovation Fund that rewards projects that look to protect quality journalism.

The full interview with Jimmy Wales is published in the August issue of The Drum's monthly print magazine.

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