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Where is our value? Where to Wikinews?[edit]

I'd like to see about starting a dialog, if I could. This is not meant to be a flame war in any form. These are honest questions and observations and I'd like to hear the opinions of folks who have been here and involved with this project far more than I have. Please remember that I really am on our side here. I've been having a ball and everyone has been wonderfully friendly.

A couple of days ago one of my friends brought to me concern with my activities with Wikinews thinking that what the site seemed to do was at best unfair, at worst nearly the whole site was a copyright violation. After discussions here (thanks Doldrums!) I came to the conclusion that we're quite safe on the copyright issues. That being said, I'm having more difficulty dealing with his fairness and value questions.

He originally thought that we were simply rewriting articles which would be at best unfair. I defended us saying that the articles written, best practice, come from many sources. Further, I said the value of this approach is like the value for most "open source" projects - many eyes can make deep products. By writing compilation articles the value of Wikinews is that we can bring into one article details from many.

But does that work in practice? The vast majority of articles that I've seen here, including those with the "publish" tag, including mine, end up shorter and perhaps at least as shallow as their source articles. We are writing new articles, yes, but are those articles really saying anything new? What value are we adding to the news that CNN, API, or Reuters isn't? If we aren't adding value in some way than can we be accused of taking away their audience by using the fruit of their labors? And while that might be legal by the application of copyright law, is it fair?

I've been doing a bit of research (Hey! Maybe the makings of a story!) about the Citizen Journalist movement since I started on Wikinews. The definition given this movement seems very broad. Sites such as Slashdot are included at one end of the scale, while at the other end seems to sit IndyMedia and OhMyNews.

Slashdot seems to be a compilation of links with commentary. Less stories than postings by individual contributers saying, "CNN has reported this," with "this" being the link to the CNN (or whatever) story. So, while I can consider Slashdot a news site, I'd consider their folks "posters" rather than "reporters."

At the other end of the scale seems to sit IndyMedia with its network of individual IndyMedia Centers. These folks seem to be nearly all original reporting, however I nearly want to put the word "reporting" in quotes. IndyMedia was the first indication I had of the Citizen Journalism movement even before I knew what to call it. My boyfriend was active in it some years ago and knew and worked with the IM reporter who was killed in Mexico last month. However, interestingly enough, even while I stand proudly on the US Liberal Left, IndyMedia's articles seem so left that I seem like a Conservative in comparison. IM has made me very much appreciate Wikinews's NPOV goal.

Another site of interest is OhMyNews, a Korean-based citizen journalism site with an English language offshoot. Here many of the stories seem to be original reporting, but their sources are not exactly indicated.

I think, perhaps, we all see the value of original reporting, and I have very much liked what I have seen with regard to that in Wikinews, especially if it can be documented. Slashdot's value seems to be pointing avery specific community (TechnoGeeks) to the type of news they want. Beyond making the news known via a link and perhaps offering a comment, that's all they do.

Where does Wikinews sit in all of this? Where is our value? What are we practically doing on a day-to-day basis as opposed to what our stated goals are?

These are the thoughts and questions of a n00b! I look very forward to some insights from Wikinews veterans and n00bs alike! -Richard 'Doc' Kinne 18:00, 21 November 2006 (UTC)

Wikinews is a collaboratively produced free-content news source, with an explicit NPOV goal. the value of wikinews reports is in
  • the explicit NPOV goal and open-editing model (anyone can contribute, and what they say carries weight, no one "owns" articles and acts as gatekeeper on it) means that we're trying out a unique and hopefully good approach to producing neutral reports.
  • its aim to produce full reports, not blog-like posts, covering the full spectrum of general news. plus, its free licensing means that Wikinews can become a wire service for alternative and local media. as someone who's doing local radio, richard, u can give us some idea of how well we fit the bill, and what we shld do better.
  • the collaborative process means that much more people can actually help write articles - u don't have to know lots about journalism or be able to spare the time and effort to write articles all on ur own, to contribute.
the reason we do compilation reports of course, is that until we have enough contributors (and experienced, accredited contributors) to rival a pro news organisation, our OR work won't make for sufficiently wide coverage of events. i agree with u that regardless of copyright concerns, we shld ask ourselves whether our work adds value to what we "take" from the sources, and whether what we do is "fair" to them. the way we can add value when we compile info from multiple, independent sources include -
  • the simple collating of information from several news sources
  • we add information not in the other news sources sources themselves (eg., from WP, press releases, briefing transcripts, publications from other organisations)
  • independent confirmation of events, and cross-checking for accuracy y checking the various sources.
  • getting various points of view together, overcoming individual news sources' biases
  • editorial decisions we take change how we tell the story, eg. how much coverage we give to what aspect, what stories do we give importance to.
the key thing, of course, is that we do need to do a much better job of meeting these goals :)  — Doldrums(talk) 08:11, 22 November 2006 (UTC)

I can't disagree with you that in a lot of cases our articles end up shorter than their sources, but I'd point out that the exceptions where we gather that critical mass of contributors are something special. Take as an example Major explosions at UK oil depot. That got a wikinewsie into the BBC press room. --Brian McNeil / talk 18:53, 21 November 2006 (UTC)

Thanks Doldrums! I do have several responses.
First, no, I'm not working in local radio. My friend, who I'm having this conversation with, does this part-time. He also is a local publisher.
I think what has upset him is that he sees a compilation article, even in our own words, as a theft. As I mentioned, I defended that saying that we create our articles from several sources - and we are rather strict about that, which is great. However, when push comes to shove, newspaper accounts on the web may not constitute as many sources as we think. Indeed, many if not most, may devolve to the AP. In writing the Israeli gay marriage article this morning my initial source was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I found another source that was written differently and used that. About two hours later I found an article on CNN but this turned out to be a copy of the Seattle article since both were a retransmission of the AP article. Now the newspapers can do that since they subscribe to the AP for just that purpose.
My friend's fear is that if what we're doing is legal and ethical, what is to prevent the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Chicago Tribune, etc. from doing the same thing? And if that happens then the AP will have far less subscribers which will harm its news gathering ability leading to job loss of reporters.
Now my friend's view is one opinion. I'll tend to listen to his opinions on this matter because of what he does, but its just one opinion. I'm convinced what we're doing with regard to compilation reports written in our own words is legal by way of copyright law or I'd have to believe that AP and Reuters would have shut us down months ago. From a research point of view, with the sourcing we do, I have to believe we're good with regard to plagerism. With the exception of one journalism professor from Columbia who seems to think that the entire Citizen Journalist movement is a bunch of kids wasting time in a sandbox, I've not been able to find out what the professional journalism community thinks of us beyond the fact that a Wikinewsie spent a week at the BBC last year and that the Toronto Star referenced one of our polls (Original Reporting!).
But is what we're doing enough?
Brianmc is right. When we do things well, we're spectacular. But day-to-day - and I'm as guilty of this as anyone else! - what we seem to be doing from a practical standpoint is stripping off the copyright protection from AP articles. I know that's not what we're supposed to be doing and I know that's not what we want to be doing, but most of the time, day-to-day, when all the cards are on the table, isn't that what we end up doing? I think I did a reasonable job, in comparison with other articles (please feel free to disagree!!), on the Israel gay marriage article, but when you get right down to it, does it say anything substancially different than its sources? Or is it just a legal rewrite?
You mention various ways we can add value to an article, and they're great. My problem is that I don't see them usually being done. The sources that are used may, in the end, devolve into a single source - AP or Reuters. Writing a story with reference to original sources is great, but I don't see it being done often. How many of us are going to call the Israeli Supreme Court to check their gay marriage ruling? How many of us can read the Hebrew to do so? :-) Being able to actually follow up sources may mean being somewhat local to the story, such as the wonderful writing being done by Jason in Buffalo. And this adds up to Original Reporting, which is why my heart leaps every time I see it.
Maybe in the end what I'm finally coming to is this: We've set the bar high, I think, with regard to the "publish" tag - the article must be fully sourced, NPOV, and have multiple sources. We actually have flags for all these things if they are lacking. Do we need to set it higher to make sure from a practical standpoint that we're not just stripping copyright protection off of newswire service articles?
Should we make sure, maybe, that each article we publish has some sort of original reporting attached to it? For example, I was thinking of writing an article about the six Imans that were stopped and deplaned on Monday. It'd be an easy article to write, there are, seemingly, multiple online sources to it. But before I wrote it, I sent an email with some questions to one of the Muslim clerics on faculty at Cornell University. The concerns I see with this approach on a regular basis is that by the time Dr. Afzel responds to me the "freshness" of this news item may be gone. And everyone may not want to, or be able to, reach this bar, and if that's the case will Wikinews die from non-participation? -Richard 'Doc' Kinne 19:39, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
we ain't the only ones stealing stuff[1] off other sources.:^  — Doldrums(talk) 10:15, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Great conversation. I only came to Wikinews a few days ago. I see some other interesting opportunities above those Doldrum mentions:
  • translations from other languages (we get to choose what gets translated, at least we do if we have people interested in the stories with ability to translate) --InfantGorilla 16:45, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
But we need to be able to do substancially different translations since just straight translations are a derivative work (at least in the US) -Richard 'Doc' Kinne 19:39, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
  • changing the global balance (recent stories from Switzerland, Canada and NZ that don't make the regular "global" Anglo-Saxon media)
I think you are asking the right questions. In the few days I was here, I saw that if you don't add the "publish" tag yourself, it is unlikely anyone else will publish for you. I wasn't on IRC much, but I wonder how useful the "ready" tag could be to encourage some extra pairs of eyes before you release? --InfantGorilla 16:45, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
I've been trying to use it for just that purpose! I'm not sure yet that its helped. -Richard 'Doc' Kinne 19:39, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
After release, some stories improved greatly as even anons edited them. I can only offer an hour or two to the project, and in that time I concentrated on my own story, but I tried to pitch in and browse a few "in development" pieces. I found two interesting stories that were in limbo; I used my meagre experience here to clean them up and add the {{publish}} tag—and no-one complained.
I should say that when I asked for help, it was very generously given.--InfantGorilla 16:45, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
I agree with you. The community here is way, way up there in friendliness, helpfulness, and acceptance! -Richard 'Doc' Kinne 19:39, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
In other words, I wonder what can be done to
  • encourage collaboration on developing stories, or to
  • guide new article writers, especially the ones inclined towards Original Reporting, into seeking assistance from the smart people here.
--InfantGorilla 16:45, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
I thought I had seen you (Doc) use {{ready}} for that purpose "Doc"—like me you have spotted that it doesn't seem to work the way we first guessed. Category:Ready doesn't seem to be a gripping read for established Wikinewsies. It seems that the cliche "publish and be damned" fits here. I am not here long enough to guess if articles would be better if they got a critical work over before publishing, or if it is fine to publish quickly followed by final tweaks from the community. I would like to understand the dynamic that got an extra 12 hours of community work on the excellent Judging the Courts: Wikinews interviews Prof. Lawrence Douglas after it got its ready tag, but leaves it still in limbo 12 hours after it was last touched. I intend to leave well alone until I have contributed more. --InfantGorilla 21:04, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
about this {{ready}} business, note that there aren't all that many wikinewsies around (10,000 registered users of whom 12 contributed more than 100 edits last month[2]). so many, if not most of articles to date have one person who does almost all the work on it. occassionally, some event attracts a larger number of interested contributors. so, i think, till we get many more contributors stikcking on, we shld be reconciled to ignored ready flags. if u do need particular assistance with something, u can place a request on the newsroom (sometimes they get ignored too!). hopefully, we'll reach that critical mass of reporters, and each major news events attracts the attention of several reporters who can work together. what i usually do with ready tags is add them, wait for a few hours and then publish if no one has anything to say. this is perfectly appropriate, as wikinews doesn't have a formal review process or editors who typically co-ordinate their work on articles (for one thing, they live on opposite sides of the world).
about the interview, it hung around in ready because it was awaiting a response from Prof. Douglas, not because i was awaiting some one else to publish it.  — Doldrums(talk) 09:51, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
I agree that translations are derivative. So, I am thinking more about translations of free content, such as my second story: French postal service is back on the rails. The copyright French language material, by Grondin (talk · contribs), is CC-BY-2.5 --InfantGorilla 21:04, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
Yes, no problem to translate, i often translante and adapte from english to french wikinews. As long the source wikinews is cited !
About the wheretowikinews : the big difference and wealth of wikinews is : wikinews unique goal is to report news (no more) not to explain news using a specific politicaly (or economicaly) oriented POV as all media done. It's unique and worth the time we pass on Wikinews (fr and en for me) . --Jacques Divol 21:40, 22 November 2006 (UTC)
Some of my thoughts on all this. First off I think its great that this discussion is taking place, and agree with most everything said. One thought I had well reading this is of the ideal (non-exsitant) utopian world, when you mentioned the Israeli gay marriage thing, In the ideal world, there would be mass coridanation with the Wikinewsies who can speak hebrew via WORTNET (Or perhaps through wikinews-l which really is under-utilized) to do original research over there, and brought back here. We really should have better inter-language cooridination. Currently its not that good, the best is with French because of Divol, and theres a little bit of spanish, and polish, but honestly it just barely exists (now, If only I didn't speak only english...).
It is true that some articles are extremely well done. These typically involve major disasters (like the Oil thing blowing up in the UK, tsunami, London subway bombs etc. Actually since 9/11 was the even that prompted wikipedia to start in the news (I think) which eventually prompted the development of wikinews, Disasters have been a major part of wikinews for a while. The other side is interviews we're the interviewer is extremely interested in the interviewee (like Doldrums recent interview with Prof. Douglas, or (I think it was) DragonFire's interview with David Anderson for stardust @ home). Bawolff 07:48, 29 November 2006 (UTC)

Where wikinews wins[edit]

I'm adding a section in here, because I think we should bring together as many pieces of the wikinews puzzle that we know work and focus on what makes them work and how it can improve the quality of our coverage and the legitimacy of it. As I pointed out on the associated talk page, we do "go global" when there is a major event with significant opportunity for input from citizen journalists. My example was Buncefield, but the 7/11 explosions was equally well covered here. A community formed where there was reinforcement of the belief that small pieces of information were worth getting online thus encouraging phone photos and a host of other bits and pieces to get uploaded. There's a sort of critical mass for an event like this where the regulars can sit on the sidelines and encourage people to take part, the coverage takes on a life of its own and you're left doing minor copyedit work on stuff done by enthusiastic anons and newbies.

Yet, when the event is over we don't retain them. Out of dozens of people who may have contributed to one of our FA candidates perhaps one or two will stick around. The "Wikinews on form" standard is one we simply can't keep to all the time.

For many of those folks who stick around, and others who contribute to have something to discuss, our output may in a lot of cases resemble poor rehashes of AFP/AP/Reuters wire stories. I won't deny that, and I wish there were more sources we could synthesize from. However, relying on news reports on an issue for a prolonged period of time can allow you to have an in-depth article that beats the coverage of your sources. I keep an eye on Thailand, and I'm pleased with this which, whilst relying on related news, brings more to the reader than any one of the cited sources. --Brian McNeil / talk 22:16, 22 November 2006 (UTC)

How to write "better" articles[edit]

have started this section in the hope of getting something concrete from this discussion, hoping that this ends up as a guide for contributors to help them do better. am not sure how much of my first addition is already covered in existing docs (too lazy to check). feel free to add/modify stuff. — Doldrums(talk) 10:48, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

  • the barebones reporting of the news event (i.e. the 3-4 sentences in the article which describes what the headline reports) shld be substantiated by multiple, independent sources (not 16 city newspaper reports based on an AP wire). check for discrepancies in different reports.
  • look for and use "on-location" sources in preference to secondary sources.
  • include a source from a "local" publication (that country, that state, that town...) - there's more to the world than what Reuters and CNN have to say about it.
  • be sparing in use of material that has been exclusively obtained by other news organisations, eg., eyewitness accounts or opinion voiced to the news source. Such material should be attributed in text. Such material should be used only if there is a real need for it, and just enough should be used to fulfill that need. don't reproduce everything that every person interviewed by reuters said.
  • consider attributing reporter as well as publication, if someone risked her neck to get that quote from the middle of a war-zone, lets give her credit for it.
  • get hold of primary sources, press releases, briefing or interview transcripts are often accessible online. try sourcing facts and opinions to government, corporate and activist websites.
  • Take ownership of the next Terrorist Outrage article - Some news events appear to attract lots of new contributors to wikinews - strangely enough, this included many (most? all?) Headline terrorist attacks and other big-time disasters. While this is good (the new contributors, not the disasters) it sometimes turns the articles into hugely bloated and unorganised lumps (eg. that UK flights emergency thing), unless someone takes the job of keeping the article in trim.

What can we do better[edit]

throwing up some more things.  — Doldrums(talk) 10:48, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
  • revamp policy, guidelines pages
  • write some how-tos
  • guide new users better - more templates?
  • allow updates to articles/use time stamps in addition to dateline?
  • plan for upcoming events, so we can get OR (say interviewing principals, experts) done in time. (many places publish press advisories, i think the BBC compiles upcoming events.)


  • We have the "collaboration request" in the Newsroom, but besides myself I don't think many use it for normal story writing... If everyone had that thing on their talk page/user page or page they visit regularly, and we fill it up with both requests and {{Ready}} stories, it might improve collaboration... I know I would prefer if every article I publish was checked because of my horrible spelling and grammar...--Steven Fruitsmaak (Reply) 19:17, 3 January 2007 (UTC)