User:TalkHard/Quality over Quantity
UPDATE - I have since decided that this is not the best method of improving quality, and have a new proposal for In-Depth Articles.
The Wikinews Mission Statement contains many noble long term goals of providing a free news outlet to rival AP and Reuters, overcoming the digital divide, and even changing the world. But it also asserts that Wikinews will be a valuable resource from the beginning, even before these long term goals are accomplished. Wikinews has been around over a month now, so we should ask at this point, are we living up to our short term goal of Wikinews being a useful resource on its own, and not just the first step of a bigger, long term plan?
It should be clear to all that the answer is no.
Making Wikinews Valuable 
It's important that people know their time here is being used to do something that matters. But we are creating several new articles each day, and most of them seem to end up staying in development or review indefinitely. Those articles that do get finished rarely come close to the level of quality of other news outlets, so who would bother to read them? This is simply wasted effort.
Some have suggested that even the short articles we are valuable. That something is better than nothing. But they are not valuable - in fact they are harmful to the project. Many of these articles are too short, lacking important info, and sometimes loaded with errors. They are simply not at a level of quality that anyone would take seriously. Clearly people can get better news elsewhere, and they will.
Maybe in the long term we will want to try to cover everything, but we have to face facts. It will be a long time before anyone will be able to come here to find out all the latest breaking news, if ever. So for now, we must focus on what can make Wikinews valuable before we reach our long term goals.
There are other sources of news out there we can look to as a model of how we can do this. For example, weekly news magazines don't attempt to cover every story, and of course cannot release breaking stories in a timely manner. But they are not trying to be a replacement for daily newspapers, but rather a supplement to it. Instead of trying to cover everything, what they do cover is done at a level of quality above what is found in a daily paper by going more in depth, and giving the reader more background and context.
Now some have suggested making Wikinews a weekly digest, but this unnecessary. Holding off until the end of the week will not necessarily give us better articles. But it will unnecessarily hold off on publishing finished articles. If we create a good article, why wait to publish it? What we need to learn from weekly magazines is not the timing of their release, but the quality of their articles.
Quality over Quantity 
A well written article that is interesting and informative makes Wikinews valuable now. An article that is covered better here than anywhere else makes us valuable now. An article on something that is not covered by the mass media is valuable now. Well written articles like these that are valuable on their own merit, and not just as a piece of a larger picture, will make this site worth coming to and worth contributing to. Furthermore, great articles will be posted on blogs and message boards always bringing new people.
Some suggest that once there are more people, the quality will improve; there will be more people to write and edit the articles. But this ignores many key issues:
- Catch-22 problem: We need more people to make the site valuable, but the site must be valuable to bring new people.
- There are no clear short term objectives. How do we know how many people it will take before Wikinews becomes valuable?
- How are we going to bring people to a project that currently has little to no value? How are we going to keep them active?
- People seem to like creating new articles rather than editing current ones. Bringing more people may just mean that more articles are created, rather than current ones being improved.
- But most importantly, we are already failing in our original mission. We must turn Wikinews into a valuable resource no matter how many people we have.
Others might suggest stricter review policies. But if we are too strict, articles will be started and worked on that never pass review. This amounts to much wasted time and effort. We must address the fact that we do not have enough people to adequately cover all the new articles that are being created.
Therefore, a real solution must involve scaling back the quantity of articles in favor of quality.
The Proposal 
What I propose is this: an article should not even be started unless there are enough people willing to work on it.
To put this in more practical terms, there should be a page set up where people can propose ideas for articles. If enough people are willing to contribute to an article, it is created. It will take experimentation to figure out how many people is enough, but probably 5 to 10. I'd also suggest that each person can only sign up for 1 or 2 articles at a time. Not that they won't be allowed to work on others, but so not too many articles are being worked on simultaneously.
There are many pros and cons to a system like this. Here are some possible advantages:
- Articles don't get created that no one is going to work on.
- People will be more willing to help since they know they will get help from others. They won't have to do it alone.
- People will be more willing to help because they know their efforts will go toward a good, well researched article.
- High quality articles will get posted around the Internet drawing new people. Having only high quality articles will keep people returning regularly.
- More coordination, less wasted effort. People who want to help will work on articles with others rather than doing their own thing.
- Scales well as more people contribute to the site; as the site grows, more articles will be created on a wider variety of subjects.
There are drawbacks as well, but none that can't be overcome. Here are some potential problems and solutions:
- People might say they will work on an article, but then flake out - As long as most people come through, this probably won't be an issue.
- Doesn't allow for original reporting by one person - Our policy on original reporting is currently unclear, but there are ways around this. Exceptions could be allowed in special cases, if voted on. Or, someone with a record of contributing to high quality articles could be given the ability to work on articles alone if desired. Etc.
- May be unnecessary once more people contribute - If in the future it becomes unnecessary, it can be changed.
- People who want to contribute may not care for the articles being developed - It's true some will be turned off by this, and may even leave. But ones who stay will be working together rather than on their own thing, and this will more than make up for it.
One of the foundations of the Wikinews project was the idea that it would be valuable even before our long term goals were reached. It declares:
- "Wikinews will already be useful even if we start out by having relatively few original reports—because it will provide free, neutral, integrated summaries of the news from elsewhere. It will already be useful even if the subject range which we cover will initially be full of gaps—because in these subject areas, we will already benefit from the collaborative wiki model. It can grow to become more useful every day."
This was an important goal, and one that should not be overlooked. And if we can't achieve our short term goals, how are we going to achieve the long term goals.
Some may say that this proposal goes against the spirit of a wiki. But it is really about strengthening the advantages of the wiki format. A wiki is supposed to be about a collaborative effort, and the idea here is to give just a little bit of coordination to our efforts to ensure we really are working together here. Right now, it seems most people are working with relatively little help from each other. And doesn't that go against the spirit of a wiki?