Retired Wikipedian suggests Pulitzer winner tried to pay him; practice unaccepted in journalism

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Timeline
  • July 31, 2006 — The New Yorker publishes story about Wikipedia by Schiff.
  • January, 2007 — Essjay hired by Wikia.
  • January 15, 2007 — Essjay posts autobiographical details on his user page at Wikia, giving his real name, age, previous employment history from age 19, and positions within various Wikimedia Foundation projects.
  • February 23, 2007 — Wales announces his appointment of Essjay to Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee.
  • February 28, 2007 — Radar Online notes the fact correction appended to the The New Yorker article.
  • March 1, 2007 — Various Wikipedians begin digging into Jordan's edit history, finding examples of how he used his false identity during editing. While his false ID was accepted by community members before this point, as it was a matter of protecting himself, the affect on content his ID had made claim more difficult for many to accept.
  • March 3, 2007 —
    • Wales issues a statement on his user talk page at Wikipedia, asking Jordan to give up his positions of responsibility.
    • Essjay announces his retirement from Wikipedia on his user talk page at Wikipedia. He later changes his Wikia userpage to read "Essjay was a member of the Wikia staff from January to March 2007."
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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Retired Wikipedian Ryan Jordan, known originally by his pseudonym "Essjay", put himself up to more scrutiny by suggesting that unethical journalistic practices were used during an interview by Stacy Schiff for The New Yorker magazine.

Essjay made the statement on the user's Wikipedia page that:

Cquote1.svg ...she made several offers to compensate me for my time, and my response was that if she truly felt the need to do so, she should donate to the Foundation instead. Cquote2.svg

Jordan suggested that Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Schiff, to whom he said that he was a tenured university professor, offered to compensate him for an interview she conducted as research for the magazine article titled "KNOW IT ALL".

The article, published in the magazine's July issue last year, was later appended by the editors of the magazine with the disclaimer that, "He was willing to describe his work as a Wikipedia administrator but would not identify himself other than by confirming the biographical details that appeared on his user page. At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name."

What is known now, following the quitting of Essjay at Wikipedia, and the resignation at Wikia, is that the individual misrepresented himself.

Blogger and prominent contributor to Wikimedia Foundation projects Andrew Lih contacted Schiff for comment. Her reply was "on the record, succinct and emphatic":

Cquote1.svg This is complete nonsense.
All best,
Stacy
Cquote2.svg

Wikipedia Signpost writer Michael Snow received a similar response from the Deputy Editor of The New Yorker, Pam McCarthy, stating:

Cquote1.svg Yes, New Yorker policy prohibits payment for interviews. And I can assure you that Essjay's assertion about Stacy Schiff and compensation is completely false and utterly absurd. This is one of the worst charges that can be made about a reporter, and Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer Prize winner of unimpeachable integrity, whom we know well, does not deserve to be lied about in this way. Cquote2.svg

Schiff was referred by the Wikimedia Foundation for an interview for the article to Wikipedia administrator Essjay, a member of Wikipedia's arbitration committee and generally trusted member of the community.

Lih comments "He has now accused Schiff of unethical conduct, entering into the dangerous domain of defamation and libel and directly affecting the reputation of a working journalist. Is he ready to stand up and be accountable for his story, or will he leave a reckless statement sitting on the Talk page?... Who do we believe — a respected reporter or proven prevaricator Essjay/Ryan Jordan?"

Essjay tried to build sympathy?

Lih, himself an assistant professor of journalism, suggests Jordan may have tried to "portray himself as a sympathetic character", not realising that he was suggesting a journalistic wrongdoing.

Before issuing a correction, Schiff's article about Wikipedia had stated:

Cquote1.svg One regular on the site is a user known as Essjay, who holds a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law and has written or contributed to sixteen thousand entries. A tenured professor of religion at a private university... Cquote2.svg

Jordan had fabricated a persona which he described on his user page on Wikipedia, presenting himself as a tenured professor at a private US university. After the news broke, EssJay said that the false details were intended to avoid cyberstalking. However, Jordan had used these fictitious credentials to win content debates on Wikipedia. Polls have found that 55% of web users have used fake identities.

When Wikimedia's Jimmy Wales called for Jordan's resignation from any position of power, such as his Arbitration Committee placement or administrative privileges, the user decided instead to remove himself from the project completely.

He is no longer an employee of Wikia, Inc., the community wiki company at which he revealed his true identity; corporation co-founder Angela Beesley has told Wikinews that Jordan resigned.

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Sources

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