Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Have you considered the authenticity of Wikipedia? Apparently a Vermont college has banned Wikipedia as a source for student papers and tests -- considering that the information in some cases was false. So ... the question might boil down to 'Who do you trust' for authoritative information? I worry about the truthfulness of stuff online -- as much as I do in any media.

But the owners of Wikipedia and Wikia would have you believe that the Encyclopedia Brittanica is no better, no more responsible, as a source -- but I wonder. Wikipedia has had a number of misleading and inaccurate stories. The authors generally submit material based on trust, for free. Yes, there is a level of review. But, if a traditional journalist is being PAID and is judged and reviewed on their performance for accuracy -- then maybe that author and the material might be more reliable?

I think this question is even more of a concern for blogs as well. There are some blogs that are seeking equal footing with traditional news sources by requesting press credentials for special events such as ball games, political events, concerts, and corporate annual meetings. Should they be admitted as legitimate members of the traditional press? The bloggers would say they too are investigative reporters who have a right to know, and the freedom of information act supports them. Plus, they may enjoy a sizeable online audience.

There are even blogs sponsored by legitimate newspapers -- a real extention of the media for trained reporters, and response by readers. Today it's a real 'community' of open dialog. Again, who do you trust for accurate information? And what differentiates the traditional journalist from the blog reporter or developer of a Wikipedia article? Plenty!

Just putting 'stuff' on a blog or a website is not necessarily a 'responsible' act of journalism. In many cases it's seriously biased. (We could argue that some journalists, make good bloggers, while being legitimately biased -- it may be their job to offer biased opinion, similar to the OpEd page of a newspaper. But the intent and bias is clearly identified.) The traditional journalist is normally a trained journalist, who follows an ethics code and is paid based on performance, and held responsible by a higher level of authority ... his/her boss, a board of directors, and peers of the industry.

In many cases, the blogger is simply exercising their free opinion, and is responsible to nobody -- and most often has a clear bias. There is little attempt to be 'fair' and balanced, nor accurate, and real problems arise with misleading information. The traditional training and the review process based on 'standards' of performance, are not usually involved in the blog site. Oh, there are exceptions -- but let's face it, any fool can start a blog or claim authenticity to information on a web site. It doesn't mean it's true, nor should it be considered an authentic source by students, business people, customers, or the general public.

At least not UNTIL there is: 1) standards of conduct and practice, and 2) peer reviews based on those standards.

Of course we've all heard the saying, "Do you believe everything you read?" Probably not ... As long as there is freedom of speech, there will be a difference of opinion. The wisdom of 'buyer beware' prevails. So, let's at least warn people which is which ... and make some attempt to separate the opinion from the misleading, from the real facts that are historically, technically, and socially accepted as correct and responsible. And raise the standards of online dialog.