Exploring the world of social media

WEEKLY #8: This just in…from Wikipedia

Working on a research project for school? Check out Wikipedia. Want to know the marriage history of your favorite celebrity? Check out Wikipedia. Want the definition of an obscure term someone threw out in conversation? Wikipedia probably has an answer for that too.

I get a lot of value out of the world’s largest, online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. But it wasn’t until my most recent social media class that I considered Wikipedia as having the capacity to serve as a reliable news source.

One of the things that strikes me about episodic reporting on Wikipedia is the notion of how news that is aggregated by multiple sources has the ability to much more detailed and balanced. We live in a 24/7 news cycle culture, which someone might think leaves lots of room for thorough analysis and lots of detail. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The average news story is reported in approximately 1,000 words, and as a result, more of the news we receive from traditional media outlets is extremely summarized. We see headlines running across giant marquee screens and the bottom of our television screens. But we don’t get deep dives into the details of a story.

What I’m beginning to see is how the internet and tools like Wikipedia can change this dynamic. For the person wanting to dive deeper into today’s current events, the internet can serve as their best friend. An article published in the print version of The Washington Post can’t link to previous articles written on the same subject or provide background on the article’s central “characters.” But online news makes this possible.

And the notion of turning to a Wikipedia page that represents the sum total of hundreds of perspectives is fascinating. My thought is that news delivered this way has the potential to even combat the growing trend of “the daily me” — a term coined by Nicholas Negroponte. The 7 July 2005 London bombings page seems to be a great example of this.  And even pages on more trivial news events, like the Balloon Boy hoax of last year, provide a tremendous amount of detail.

With the number of people on Wikipedia who care about accuracy and real truth, versus just “truthiness,” I think we can all benefit from news recorded on Wikipedia.


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