Weinberger: Why the media can't get Wikipedia right

David Weinberger — author of the magnificent Small Pieces Loosely Joined — has published a great article anaylzing press-coverage of Wikipedia called "Why the media can't get Wikipedia right."

In the press-storm following on from Seigenthaler's damning of Wikipedia, there has been a stream of unfair criticism of Wikipedia. The press — both mainstream and tech — has hunted for ways to damn Wikipedia, nits to pick and indictments to lay, not to mention a healthy dollop of legal hysteria about the possibility that Wikipedia could be sued for libel.

Weinberger expertly dissects the media's claims about Wikipedia (a resource that I consult daily) and makes some shrewd guesses about why the press can't think straight about Wikipedia.

There were lots of little errors of tone. For example, Robert Lever, writing for the Agence France-Presse, said:

In an unusual bit of self-criticism, Wikipedia notes on its site that some complain about "a perceived lack of reliability, comprehensiveness, and authority" in the encyclopaedia.

"Unusual"? Wikipedia has been a continuous state of self-criticism that newspapers would do well to emulate. It has discussion pages for every article. It has handled inaccuracies not defensively but with the humble understanding that of course Wikipedia articles will have mistakes, so let's get on with the unending task of improving them. Wikipedia's ambitions are immodest, but Wikipedia is not.

And Daniel Terdiman wrote for C-NET:

The article stayed on Wikipedia – the free, open-access encyclopedia – for four months before Seigenthaler finally got the service's founder, Jimmy Wales, to agree to take it down.

"Finally"? Sounds like Jimmy Wikipedia Wales was resistant? Nah. I asked Jimmy about this. He was contacted by Seigenthaler once. Jimmy immediately removed the previous versions of the article so people couldn't come upon it by accident. Previous versions are not indexed by the search engines, but, Jimmy said, "We do that fairly often as a courtesy to people, if there's something disparaging to people in the article." Added Jimmy, Seigenthaler "didn't request that it be deleted. He seemed to be surprised that we were willing to do that."