Wikipedia journalism in Sri Lanka

I found the reference in the Sunday Times of 14 June 2009 to Canadian Liberal MP Bob Rae’s alleged links to the LTTE, by way of a wikipedia entry, particularly disgusting. This is more than just bad journalism and technical incompetence, it is deliberately misleading the public in Sri Lanka.

It’s also a great case for revisiting MSM journalism ethics in a context where so much disinformation and misinformation colour web sources.

See my article published on Groundviews here.

As Asanga Welikala commenting on the story notes,

…if any serious newspaper anywhere else in the world used wikipedia as a basis of evidence… for the principal argument of its main political column, provided it passed muster of the sub-editors, then both the columnist and the editor would be facing the sack overnight. It is useless nowadays to talk about such things as ‘credibility’, and ‘professionalism’, so perhaps the shame of the charge of utter incompetence might be the thing that persuades The Sunday Times to issue a retraction?

State of the News Media and Citizen Journalism 2008

State of the News Media 2008

At over 700 pages and with more than 180,000 words, the State of the News Media 2008 report by the Project for Excellent in Journalism in the US brings new meaning to the word comprehensive. There’s no printed version to be found, but the entire report is online here. The content is largely US centric, yet the section on Citizen Media makes for some extremely interesting reading.

A few points from the chapter are worth highlighting.

Consumers of CJ and User Generated Content

  • As of spring 2006, according to a study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 37% of all Americans who go online were engaged with user-generated content.
  • The percentage is even higher for teenagers. According to survey data collected by Pew Internet in the fall of 2006, 64% of 12- to 17-year-olds say they have created content for the Internet, up from 57% in 2004

What is news and who defines news? Is user governed and user generated content inherently more insightful than traditional media coverage?

  • A snapshot study by the Project in the summer of 2007 found the top stories on popular user-driven news sites – Digg, Reddit and – were very different than those of the mainstream media.
  • In the week studied (June 24 to June 29, 2007), the release of Apple’s new iPhone was the most popular story on Digg, while the mainstream press focused on the immigration debate in Washington. Coverage of the war in Iraq accounted for 10% of all articles in the traditional press that week, but across the three user-news sites that PEJ studied, it made up just 1% of all stories.
  • PEJ’s one-week study also found the sources for stories on these sites tended to differ from the mainstream press. Blogs by non-journalists proved to be the most popular source, making up 40% of the stories. Nearly 31% of stories originated on sites such as YouTube and Technorati that also offer citizen-generated content.
  • Mainstream media, by contrast, made up just 25% of articles on these sites. Wire services, such as the Associated Press Reuters, accounted for 5% of them.
  • Newsmakers themselves, from the Pentagon to the presidential candidates to humanitarian and activist groups, began placing content directly on YouTube and MySpace as a way of countering what might be in the mainstream press or even beating the press to the punch.

Growth and influence of Blogs and blogging

  • Data from Technorati, a blogging search engine, found in the spring of 2007 that the number of blogs was doubling every 320 days. According to the research, there were 70 million blogs produced worldwide at that time.
  • Despite the proliferation of blogs, survey data suggest most Americans have yet to accept them as significant news sources. According to a winter 2007 Zogby Poll, blogs were the lowest on the list of “important” sources of news, coming in at 30%, well after Web sites (81%), television (78%), radio (73%), newspapers (69%) and magazines (38%). More Americans, 39%, chose friends and neighbors over blogs as an important informational source.
  • The Pew Internet & American Life Project found in 2006 that most bloggers wrote about issues other than news. Nearly four in ten (37%) said they blogged mainly about their “life and experiences,” with issues of public life (11%) cited as the second most popular topic area. Just 5% said they concentrated primarily on news and current events.

Wikipedia for news?

  • Survey research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 36% of Americans who go online have consulted the site, with nearly one in ten (8%) doing so on typical day in the winter of 2007. The same survey also found that Wikipedia’s highest use came from those with at least a college degree.

Citizen Journalism sites

  • In the absence of revenue, most appear to be running on the owners’ blood, sweat and tears. (I can personally attest to this!)
  • In the midst of the uncertainty that surrounds the business model for citizen journalism sites, nonprofits have become a more visible presence in online journalism. This is especially true at the hyperlocal level, where nonprofits have contributed money to encourage and support citizen reporting.

How open are Citizen Journalism sites?

  • The other discovery was that, for all that citizen journalism might imply openness and interactivity, the majority of sites analyzed tended to demonstrate the instincts of “strong gatekeepers” who control the content and are somewhat more difficult to interact with than the ideals of citizen journalism suggest. Now, instead of professionals, those gatekeepers were the bloggers or citizens who ran the sites.
  • The one form of openness was that the majority, indeed almost all, did allow users to post comments about the material on the site, but the staff reserved the right to edit or otherwise screen the comments to meet its standards of civility.
  • The 2007 PEJ Report included a content study of 38 news Web sites and found the participatory nature of the Web was more theoretical than tangible.