Wikipedia founder creates ‘factual’ news site

“Facts matter”: Wikitribune will enlist professionals and ordinary people to find the truth.

Entrepreneur Jimmy Wales has launched Wikitribune, a collaboration between journalists and citizens that will put facts first. But in the age of fake news, can facts really change our minds?

As the co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales is familiar with the challenge of trying to establish facts.

Like many, he thinks the task has been made harder by the spread of fake news and politicians’ growing disregard for evidence. He decided he had to do something about this, soon after Donald Trump became US president.

Enter Wikitribune, an online news service that Wales launched yesterday. The website will pay journalists to investigate stories on subjects ranging from Theresa May to “dog breeding”. Unlike other media outlets, however, subscribers will have a big say in what sorts of stories get written.

Wikitribune borrows ideas from Wikipedia. For transparency’s sake, the journalists will source their facts and publish interviews in full. The subscribers will also contribute to fact checking.

The website will aim to combine the best of professional and citizen journalism. Its core principle, according to Wales, is “Facts matter.”

Much has been said about technology’s role in spreading hoaxes and lies. Wales wants to use technology to fight back with facts. His project is admirable — but can it really defeat fake news?

After the facts

Absolutely, say some. The internet is still in its Wild West stage: chaos reigns, and it is hard to know who to trust. As Wales says, “people have a thirst for quality information” — they may not always know where to find it. The only way to restore faith in online information is with high-profile projects which fly the flag for truth.

That is naive, reply others. The problem of fake news does not stem from the sources of information, but from the readers. We are hardwired to ignore facts that clash with our beliefs. We have always been irrational — the internet has just exposed that on a whole new scale. Fake news is here to stay.

You Decide

  1. When you want to know the facts of a subject, where do you look first? How reliable is that source?

Activities

  1. Choose a recent event in your community that interested you, and write about it in the style of a news report. Make sure to source every fact. Then get a partner to read over it and make suggestions about how to improve it.

Some People Say...

“People have had enough of experts.”

— Michael Gove

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Wikitribune will be entirely crowdfunded. It is asking for donations, and will start operating once it has received enough.
What do we not know?
Whether it will work. Wikipedia is hugely popular — but it got a head start over most websites, and now occupies a unique position on the web. Wikitribune enters a crowded market of news outlets, many of them struggling to make money.

Word Watch

Disregard for evidence
Many describe the current political climate, in which facts do not always seem to matter, as “post-truth”. This was Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016.
Big say
Wales gives an example: fans of bitcoin can subscribe, then lobby for a reporter who focuses on bitcoin-related stories.
Citizen journalism
News written (or based on reports by) the general public — including amateur videos. It has proliferated thanks to smartphones and the internet.
Ignore facts
See The New Yorker’s article in Become An Expert.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.