For reasons that become less clear with each passing day, I have a feed coming from Wired News. I think part of it is a nostalgia regarding how Wired used to be when I first stumbled upon it when I was 24, and the other part is that over time I’ve appeared in it. And don’t think I don’t appreciate that very, very much.
But in my battered and arrow-pierced helmet as Wikipedia Critic, I can’t help but be particularly galled by the efforts of one Tony Long, cub Wired reporter (actually, the Copy Chief), whose stories keep showing up in my feed reader, along with all the other ones.
I happened to click on one, found the article a little short, and then, at the bottom, the dreadful words: (Source: Wikipedia). Well now, that’s fantastic; next I’d be inspired to have (Source: Guy I Know). I simply assumed he was on deadline, had to shoot some thing at his editor to make them shut up, and then he’d get back to, you know, work.
Wrong. Here’s some articles from the last two weeks:
- Jan. 28, 1986: Challenger (Source: Wikipedia)
- Jan. 24, 1848: Gold! (Source: Wikipedia)
- Jan. 23, 1978: Pfffttt…. (Source: Wikipedia)
- Jan. 22, 1984: Dawn of the Mac (Source: Wikipedia)
- Jan. 18, 1911: Clear the Deck (Source: Wikipedia)
- Jan. 17, 1985: Please Hold (Souirce: Wikipedia)
- Jan. 15, 1969: White-Knuckle Ride (Source: Wikipedia)
Notably, none of these articles are listed as being “written by” Tony Long; they’re marked off as “compiled by”, as if the Herculean effort of going to en.wikipedia.org and pressing Open-Apple-C deserves the same nomenclature as contacting a series of individuals to create a summary. Those graphs and charts in a newspaper that show clearly what happened in the last 20 years in a subject, or which show exactly which states have the most beehives? That’s compiling.
Obviously, newspaper journalism has a long and studied history of just yanking whatever comes down the newswire or which goes by on TV, and then just printing it, meaning something completely wrong or misheard can become canon. My favorite band, Negativland, did an amazing album about this whole phenomenon called “Helter Stupid”. Check it out sometime.
But even if this is the usual way of doing business, there’s something about the wikipedia angle that irks me. I think it’s the fact that the use of Wikipedia as the primary (and only!) source for an article is considered kosher enough to credit it at the bottom, and this is A-OK.
We do this everywhere: claim something is still being worked on, acknowledge it’s got some pretty major flaws, promise we’ll work them out in the future, and then dump more and more infrastructure on it. I guess it’s what people just do. But doesn’t mean I have to like it.
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