Weekly #8 – I still trust (but verify) Wikipedia

Our blog topic this week is an extension of last weeks, trust in Wikipedia.  After a discussion in class and several readings about Wikipedia (along with writing our own entries) I have to say that my answer has not changed.  I still trust Wikipedia as a good initial source for quick background information on a subject and as a reference point for additional information.  I take what I read on the site with a grain of salt though, and verify it for myself through other means.

Last week in class we talked about the 7/7 bombings in London and looked at the very detailed Wikipedia entry on it.  We used the View History tab to see how the page evolved, from an initial entry just 28 minutes after the attacks and tracked how it evolved in just the first few hours.  It was updated more than 50 times in the first hour alone.

Until last week’s class, it had never, ever crossed my mind to look at Wikipedia as a source for breaking news.  I’m not saying that I now consider it a source of news, but at least I know now that people start creating entries almost immediately after something major seems to be happening.

My experience as an Army public affairs officer has led me to know that first reports are almost always incorrect and that more details will be added later and confusion on the ground will lead to revisions of reports, clarifications of facts and figures, actions and response activities.  A look at the numerous edits on the 7/7 page shows this very well.

I would be a fool to trust Wikipedia as a definitive source for breaking news, after all it’s an encyclopedia not a news station.  That said, I would also be a fool to entirely trust what the media is reporting as well, since I know all too well that initial reports can be, and frequently are, incorrect but that once something’s been reported and the media has moved on to a new topic incorrect media reports often remain on record and become the new “truth.”

For me, Wikipedia in a breaking news situation (provided I have the time to be checking out Wikipedia in such a situation) serves more as a gauge on what people are thinking about an event, and how they are interpreting it, rather than as a source for hard facts.

In the end, I still say that Wikipedia is a useful first reference for me and now I know that it’s also updated with breaking news.  I’ll have to check it out the next time something is going on and see it evolve in realtime.

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