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In the Media

Hale Bopp comet
Hale Bopp comet

Sony Center at Night, Berlin.
By Tillea.

A few general directions were observed in the past months.

Wikipedia was well covered by English and German press in 2004, but only started being covered by press in other languages after the one-millionth article press release. In 2005, for non-English languages the press has finally reached the stage when their stories are no longer merely a basic explanation of what Wikipedia "is" for an audience unaware of the project. They are focusing more on breaking news or interviews about specific issues. In many countries, it seems that Wikipedia is now considered a reference, without need for further description. For example, in January the potential Google deal was heavily commented on in the press and on blogs in many languages.

Editors in many languages are now regularly interviewed on specific issues on their own projects. For instance, see the interview with Anthere in neteconomie.com about the Foundation's opinion on projects such as the Google Print Library Project, the NYPL Digital Gallery, or the altruistic behavior of firms like Yahoo!.

A second trend is that more and more information is published on projects other than Wikipedia, especially Wikinews (the media love to write about themselves). Major reports were in Businessweek, the NYT, and Wired.

A third trend is the growth of internal reporting about Wikimedia projects. Wikinews reports on the Foundation's activities (see for instance "German Wikipedia DVD sells out first 10 000 copy run", and "Lack of facts no hindrance to speculation about Google Wikipedia"), and in addition to essays in the Quarto, community members publish articles in the English language Wikipedia Signpost and the German language Kurier about project developments and initiatives.

Staircaise in Vatican Museum.
By Tillea.

In the media

Worldtraveller, Presroi, et al

Press coverage of Wikimedia projects in the first quarter of 2005 has varied, as always, from adoring to acidic.


On the positive side, Wikipedia was described by The Guardian (February 27) as "The best example yet of the capacity of the internet to coalesce into self-regulating networks" [1].

Wired Magazine (March 2005) took an in-depth look at some of the most active Wikipedians, and described Wikipedia as "the self-organising library of the future [2]. Meanwhile, CNN and many other news outlets reported comments made by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World-Wide Web, who said at a conference that wiki software embodied many of his original visions for the internet as a tool for collaboration, and that Wikipedia was "a great example of how people want to be creative and not just suck in information" [3].

Wikipedia's coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami generated a great deal of interest in the project, with The Financial Times (January 9) describing Wikipedia as "The only instant reference work" [4]. In The Observer on the same day, a column compared Wikipedia to the bee that defies the laws of aerodynamics by flying, stating that though Wikipedia "ought to be a disaster", it was in fact "an exceedingly useful online reference work" [5].

The widely circulated criticism of Robert McHenry, former Encyclopædia Britannica editor (discussed below), triggered an article in Free Software Magazine (March 2005), outlining the advantages of a freely-editable encyclopaedia over traditional works [6], and accusing Britannica of adopting underhanded techniques to try and discredit a serious threat to its reputation.

Wikipedia and Wikinews were mentioned on LCI, an important news French television channel. It was only during a few minutes in a show about wikis, but it is one of the rare mentions of Wikipedia on television.

Wasp stinger closeup, venom droplet
Wasp stinger closeup, venom droplet

Not so positive

In an article posted on New Year's Eve on Kuro5hin [7], Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger inveighed against the project he had been a leading part of until 2002 under the title, "Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism." Sanger complained that experts were not treated with sufficient respect, that lack of deference to expertise would be fatal to the long term credibility of the project, and that the project had a "certain poisonous social atmosphere" because of problem users. His stance was reported by Wired Magazine [8] and many others.

His comments were much discussed. Danah Boyd, writing on the Many-to-Many weblog [9], said she was 'often embarrassed by what appears at Wikipedia'. In an ongoing debate with fellow columnist Clay Shirky, Boyd also complained about the lack of known authorship [10].

Shirky, an ardent supporter of Wikipedia, took a more positive view than Boyd. But Sanger, commenting on Shirky's entries, accused him of having a 'religious faith in the superiority of Wikipedia's system' [11]. As a followup, Wired Magazine also took a look at some problems faced by Wikipedia in terms of becoming a respected reference source [12].

As former editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Robert McHenry penned further criticism of Wikipedia, following his scathing attack last year in an article entitled 'The faith-based encyclopædia'. Writing in the Chicago Tribune, he described the project as "...a small and self-selected group convincing itself...that it is in some ineffable way superior" [13].

A story by the Washington Post caused controversy when it was found to contain misinformation which originated in a Wikipedia article about the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake [14]. The news story alleged that priests had 'roamed the streets, hanging those they believed had incurred God's wrath' after the quake, but investigations by a Catholic radio presenter found that the line could be traced back to a Wikipedia article on the quake [15]. One blogger described it as having "originated in an unsourced, wholly imaginary Wikipedia entry" [16].

Hand-blown glass bead and pendant
Hand-blown glass bead and pendant


Perhaps testament to the growing influence of Wikipedia in the public conscience, news outlets often assume that Wikitravel is an offshoot of Wikipedia [17]. Another frequent error has been for reporters to refer to the predecessor of Wikipedia as 'Newpedia' rather than 'Nupedia', with culprits including The Guardian [18] and Nature [19].

Brazilian magazine Veja noted how easy it can be to vandalise Wikipedia in an article on January 26, when it added false information to the English Wikipedia's article on Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Romanian magazine Evenimentul Zilei seemed surprised to discover that anyone could edit Wikipedia, announcing to a shocked nation that this editable encyclopaedia "isn't a joke, it really exists" [20].

The German online edition of Der Spiegel, one of the country's top-selling news sources, was found in February to have plagiarised an article from the German Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article on the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was copied verbatim by the paper, including grammatical errors, but retracted and replaced with an apology [21] when the plagiarism was uncovered [22].

And despite Wikipedia's insistence that it is not a social experiment, The Guardian touted it on January 13 as an example of "the resurgence of communism - in its primeval form - on the internet" [23].