Does Wikipedia Need to Adapt its Reliability Guidelines?

Older generations have largely received their daily news from traditional journalistic newspapers. The culture around these publications set high expectations of journalists and their role in discovering and presenting truth. As a result of the pervasiveness of internet usage, news consumption has changed dramatically, and people tend to create “echo chambers” of content that agrees with their opinions. This tendency is only promulgated by a change in the news industry’s pay structure which responds to clicks rather than year-long subscriptions. Subscriptions essentially were contracts that gave editors and journalists some leeway in what content they published. Conversely, the ad-click revenue stream is so highly responsive to the “echo chamber” of their readers that newspapers have little else to do but to deliver content that gets clicks, while truth and objectivity fall to the wayside. This shift has been a characteristic of millennials who consume media in a vastly different way from their parents.

This, of course, is nothing new in the last 5 to 10 years, but the point remains an
important consideration in understanding reliability of sources. Clicks are an
ever-present factor in the success of small independent news sources on the web and this model presents a perverse incentive for an industry that should be run by a set of objective standards.

In creating content for Wikipedia, editors are guided to cite information from a suggested type of “reliable” media sources. How does this shift affect Wikipedia’s defined guidelines for sourcing its content? In defining a source’s role in a Wikipedia article, its guidelines defaults to, “articles should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy.” But what exactly does reliable mean? Despite the vagueness of that definition, Wikipedia is very clear about one guideline:

          Self-published sources (online and paper)

Anyone can create
personal web page or publish their own book and claim to be an expert in a certain field.
For that reason, self-published media are largely
not acceptable. Self-published books and newsletters, personal pages on
social networking sites,
tweets, and posts on Internet forums are all examples of self-published media.

According to a survey done by the American Press Institute, 83% of
millennials get part of their news from YouTube. YouTube is home to hundreds of news channels styled in a similar manner to The Daily Show on Comedy Central, where news reporting is blended with comedic commentary. These channels all seem to be self-published and it is highly questionable whether they adhere to any principles of journalism or even require any formal training in such fields.

What does this shift in demand of news sources mean for Wikipedia? Perhaps the self-published ‘ban’ will have to disappear in order to adapt, but can editors be trusted to verify the primary sources cited in these news channels?





Thea Fries