Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, announced this week the launch of Wikitribune to fight fake news with evidenced-based journalism. "The news is broken and we can fix it," Wales declares.
Bending the news for political and commercial purposes is nothing new –propaganda and its record of use stretches back to ancient Rome and before. The difference today is that mass communication and, in particular, the rise of the internet and citizen journalism have spawned a culture of truth distortion and fabrication.
We are drowning in a sea of information – 99.9% of which is rubbish. Anyone, anywhere and at any time can be a self-professed expert. There is evidence to support any view – however outrageous.
Wales is seeking to restore much needed credibility in a number of ways:
1. Journalists will only write articles based on facts that they can verify. They will have to show their sources so you can make up your own mind.
2. Wikitribune is 100% ad-free so that there is no need to appease advertisers. No one has a vested interest in anything.
3. Articles are authored, fact-checked, and verified by professional journalists and community members.
The site will be crowd-funded with contributors able to advise on the topics they want Wikitribune to explore.
So can Wales attract parishioners to his new church and counter the evils of fake news? It will be fascinating to watch. He says Wikitribune is “news for the people by the people” and that “it will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side by side as equals, writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop and at all times backed by community checking and rechecking".
Hoping for skilled professional journalists to work well alongside citizen journalists is ambitious. Asking them to view them as equals is perhaps a step too far....
Then there is the notion that stories will be “checked and rechecked” by the backing of the community. Checking facts is a precious skill and takes time and effort. Citing sources is a start but verifying those sources is a never-ending task.
Stories break very quickly, around the clock and can be fast moving with multiple strands. How are the thousands of stories that hit the headlines daily going to be properly checked? It is impossible, even with a very large professional staff.
Wales is going to need very generous donations and monumental crowd-funding to recruit the calibre of journalists and the army of volunteers he requires to accomplish his vision.
It is, however, a welcome start in what will undoubtedly be a long battle to restore credibility.
In the meantime, in this misinformation/alternative fact era, we must question everything. Why are we being told what we are being told? Who is telling us? What interest do they have in the story?
Without fear or favour? Really? Beware of spin doctors and spin doctors beware... we are on to you.