Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Michael Kinsley -- Do newspapers have a future like British papers?


Monday, Sep. 25, 2006
Do Newspapers Have a Future?
Quarreling about staff cuts, the old medium is missing the bigger questions


It seems hopeless. How can the newspaper industry survive the Internet? On the one hand, newspapers are expected to supply their content free on the Web. On the other hand, their most profitable advertising--classifieds--is being lost to sites like Craigslist. And display advertising is close behind. Meanwhile, there is the blog terror: people are getting their understanding of the world from random lunatics riffing in their underwear, rather than professional journalists with standards and passports.

Ten years ago, it was a challenge for websites to get people to spend time for pleasure in front of a computer screen. "Your problem will be solved actuarially," a computer-sciences professor assured a group of Web pioneers, and sure enough, it was. Now the problem is to get people under 50 or so to pick up a newspaper. Damp or encased in plastic bags, or both, and planted in the bushes outside where it's cold, full of news that is cold too because it has been sitting around for hours, the home-delivered newspaper is an archaic object. Who needs it? You can sit down at your laptop and enjoy that same newspaper or any other newspaper in the world. Or you can skip the newspapers and go to some site that makes the news more entertaining or politically simpatico. And where do these wannabes get most of their information? From newspapers, of course. But that is mere irony. It doesn't pay the cost of a Baghdad bureau.

Newspaper angst is now focused on the Los Angeles Times, where I was editorial and opinion editor in 2004 and '05. Long the industry's leading example of needless excellence, the Times has had bureaus around the world, a huge Washington staff and so on. Yet it had a near monopoly in its own town and made little attempt to compete elsewhere. So what was the point?

The Tribune Co. of Chicago, which bought the L.A. Times six years ago, has been asking that question and answering it with demands for cuts in budget and staff. One might ask what the point of the Tribune approach is as well. The Tribune paid a premium for a premium paper and seems intent on dragging it down into mediocrity. That may improve margins in the short run, but it does nothing to address the fundamental crisis of newspapers. Two weeks ago the Times's editor and publisher publicly refused to chop any further, which doesn't address the crisis either.

Some believe that the answer is to restore local ownership. Newspapers were born free, and yet everywhere they are in chains, like Gannett. Fueled by noblesse oblige and municipal pride, a wealthy local won't need to squeeze the last dollar out of the business. Just look at the Sulzbergers of the New York Times and the Grahams of the Washington Post. Ah, but there is a difference between folks who get rich owning a newspaper and folks who get rich and then buy a newspaper. As a rule, rich folks don't buy expensive toys for other people to play with.

So are we doomed to get our news from some acned 12-year-old in his parents' basement recycling rumors from the Internet echo chamber? Not necessarily. The fact that people won't pay for news on the Internet isn't as devastating for the old medium as it seems. People don't pay for their news in traditional newspapers: they pay for the paper, which typically costs the company more than it charges for the finished product. So in theory, giving away the news without the paper looks like a good deal for newspapers, if they can keep the advertising.

Once you've rented an apartment online, you know that traditional newspaper classifieds, with their tiny type, have no future. But only slow-footedness has kept newspapers from dominating online classifieds. Technology can be bought, but the brand value of a local newspaper cannot (unless you buy the paper). Maybe it's too late, but if newspapers have missed this boat, it's their own fault.

Newspapers are not missing the blog boat. They are running for it like the last train out of Paris. They hold their breath and look the other way as their most precious rules and standards get trampled in the rush, and figure they'll worry about that later. And later? The "me to you" model of news gathering--a professional reporter, attuned to the fine distinctions between "off the record" and "deep background," prizing factual accuracy in the narrowest sense--may well give way to some kind of "us to us" communitarian arrangement of the sort that thrives on the Internet. But there is room between the New York Times and myleftarmpit.com for new forms that liberate journalism from its encrusted conceits while preserving its standards, like accuracy.

I'm not sure what that new form will look like. But it might resemble the better British papers today (such as the one I work for, the Guardian). The Brits have never bought into the American separation of reporting and opinion. They assume that an intelligent person, paid to learn about some subject, will naturally develop views about it. And they consider it more truthful to express those views than to suppress them in the name of objectivity. Newspapers on paper are on the way out. Whether newspaper companies are on the way out too depends. Some of them are going to find the answers. And some are going to fritter away the years quarreling about staff cuts.

Copyright © 2006 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Libel and slander on MySpace -- student sued over faux site


Official sues students over MySpace page Fri Sep 22, 12:27 PM ET

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. (AP) - A high school assistant principal is suing two students and their parents, alleging the teens set up a Web page on MySpace.com in her name and posted obscene comments and pictures.

Anna Draker, an assistant principal at Clark High School, is claiming defamation, libel, negligence and negligent supervision over the page on the popular free-access Web site. Draker claims two 16-year-olds, a junior and a sophomore, created the page using her name and picture and wrote it as through Draker herself had posted the information, according to Draker's attorney, Murphy Klasing. Draker found out in April that someone had created a page on MySpace. It had been up about a month before she discovered it.

The site falsely identified Draker as a lesbian. Klasing said Draker, who
is married and has small children, was "devastated." Draker is suing for an unspecified amount for damages for emotional distress, mental anguish, lost wages and court costs.

MySpace.com removed the page when Draker told them it wasn't hers. One of the students also is facing criminal felony charges. Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Jill Mata would not release information about the case, but confirmed that juvenile charges are pending against a local high school student involving retaliation and fraudulent use of identifying information. Both are third-degree felonies.

Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com


This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fewer reporters travel with president -- good or bad?


As fewer reporters travel with the president, some worry that means his
speeches and actions are less scrutinized. But what if those reporters are
deployed to covering other things?

Increasingly, Bush Escapes the Media Pack Press Cuts Converge With Closed

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
PUBLISHED: Saturday, August 12, 2006; A01

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On one of the scariest days yet in the five-year battle with terrorists, President Bush prepared to make a speech to reassure the American people. But the White House press corps was 1,000 miles away in Texas.

Bush had left his ranch vacation and jetted north for a scheduled closed-door fundraiser. No press plane accompanied him. And so when news broke that Britain had broken up a major terrorist plot, the only ones there to convey the president's reaction were a handful of local reporters and a few pool journalists who ride in the back of Air Force One.

The idea that Bush could travel across the country without a full contingent of reporters, especially in the middle of a war, highlights a major cultural shift in the presidency and the news media. In the four decades since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, presidents traditionally have taken journalists with them wherever they traveled on the theory that when it comes to the most powerful leader on the planet, anything can happen at any time.

But increasingly in recent months, Bush has left town without a chartered press plane, often to receptions where he talks to donors chipping in hundreds of thousands of dollars with no cameras or tapes to record his words for the public. Barred from such events, most news organizations will not pay to travel with him. And so a White House policy inclined to secrecy has combined with escalating costs for the strapped news media to let Bush fly under the radar in a way his predecessors could not.

"A lot of it is a reflection of the times," said C-SPAN's Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents' Association. "The whole thing is changing."

For veterans of past administrations, the changes are striking. "When the president moved it was a big deal, and I can't even remember an occasion when we didn't take a charter," said Ed Rollins, who was Ronald Reagan's White House political director. "Go back 20 or 25 years and say we're at war and the president is traveling around the country and there are only, what, three people with him?" asked Joe Lockhart, who was Bill Clinton's White House press secretary. "That would have been unthinkable."

In some ways, it may not seem to make much difference. Like presidents before him, Bush still always travels with a small media pool that includes wire services, television cameras and a single newspaper reporter who files a report to others left behind. The advent of instant video feeds, cable television, the Internet, e-mail and transcripts of the president's every public word has made it possible to cover Bush without being anywhere near him.

Yet fewer eyeballs on a president means less scrutiny, in the view of some media and government watchdog groups. Fewer reporters, they say, means fewer questions and fewer versions of what happens available to the public. News accounts written from a different time zone invariably miss context and texture. And in closing the doors of some fundraisers, the White House has reversed a policy adopted under Clinton after fundraising scandals raised questions about what donors are seeking when they hobnob with presidents.

Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition formed three years ago that includes groups such as the American Library Association, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Society of Professional Journalists, called the changing pattern of coverage "quite disturbing" and part of a "rising tide of secrecy" in Washington.

"It's another way of closing off responsibility and accountability and shutting themselves off from public view," she said. "I think the public would prefer that somebody be in the room who is not there for their own interests to be served."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said there is nothing insidious about closing fundraisers in private homes and noted that news organizations choose whether to pay for a plane follow the president. "It's really all about money," he said. "It used to be that media organizations had more dough." Given the changes in communication technology, he added, "I think presidents are more widely available than at any point in American history." And he said he makes a point of finding ways for at least some reporters to see Bush when there are major developments. "If there is big news, we make sure the president's available," Snow said.

The cost of covering the president has risen dramatically at a time when the news media, anxious about economic pressures, are aggressively cutting costs. For a one-day trip to St. Louis, for instance, the White House billed The Washington Post $3,317. To go to Yuma, Ariz., for a day, the bill came to $3,795. A two-day trip to Europe cost $8,283, not counting hotel charges.

And so even for trips where there is a press plane, sometimes only a handful of journalists are on board. Newspapers that used to travel regularly, including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and others, now do so more sporadically. The Boston Globe no longer even has a White House correspondent, focusing on breaking exclusive stories rather than writing about the president's everyday activities.

"It's not like we're ignoring it completely," said Joe Williams, the Globe's deputy Washington bureau chief. "But the lineup we're using right now gives us flexibility to attack a broader range of stories than we would if we had a designated White House correspondent."

Bush is not the only one to find ways of escaping much public notice as he flies around the country. Vice President Cheney manages to leave Washington for days, and sometimes weeks, at a time without public announcement. Few in the capital even knew he was in Texas in February, for instance, until he accidentally shot a companion while hunting quail. And he has been in Jackson, Wyo., since July 29 without any national news media mentioning it. The Jackson Hole News & Guide found out Cheney was there only because it spotted his plane and the radar dish that serves an anti-missile battery that protects his house when he's in town. "In the past, they've been kind of weird about it," said Thomas Dewell, the paper's co-editor. "They'd say, 'His airplane's here and the missile base is here, but we can't tell you if he's here.' " This time, he said, Cheney's office confirmed his presence when asked.

Cheney aides said they announce his movements only when he makes public appearances but will provide his whereabouts if reporters call to ask. The vice president, who has already headlined 81 fundraisers in this election cycle, plans to return to Washington on Sunday before heading out to events in Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Idaho next week, his office said.

Clinton agreed to stop holding closed fundraisers in response to criticism of his campaign finance tactics. When a fundraiser was held in a private home, the White House permitted a single print reporter into the room to record the scene and the president's words for the rest of the pack. The Bush White House changed that, leaving fundraisers open if located in hotels or public spaces but closing them in private homes. "The thought was having the presence of reporters would disrupt the intimacy of the events," said Ari Fleischer, who was then White House press secretary.

Lanny J. Davis, who was White House special counsel during the Clinton fundraising scandals, expressed surprise that the change has not generated more criticism. "I marvel at their ability to get away with it," he said. "I have to grudgingly admit to some envy. I admire their chutzpah."

Bush has traveled out of the Washington area at least seven times this year without a press plane, including four times in the past month to closed Republican fundraisers -- in Milwaukee, in Cleveland, in Charleston, W.Va., and on Thursday here to Green Bay to raise $500,000 for House candidate John Gard. He also headlined a fundraiser in Texas yesterday that was closed to the media. That may serve the interests of candidates who want the money Bush can raise but don't want a public embrace with a president suffering low approval ratings.

Scully said he may raise the issue of closed fundraisers with Snow. "As we move into the fall campaign, if this happens more often, we're going to put pressure on Tony and others to open these events," Scully said. "He is the president. He is traveling at government expense. . . . We should be in there to hear what he has to say."

In the past, major media organizations felt it was important to be near the president even if they were kept out of the room, a "body watch" mentality sparked by the Kennedy assassination and reinforced over the years by any number of unexpected crises, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "There's going to be a time when something's going to happen and the major national media's not going to be there," Lockhart said. "They're going to have to rely on technology. Will this have a major impact on our democracy? Smarter people than me will have to answer that."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

The article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

TechSoup wrapup on citizen-journalism movement notes OhmyNews and NewAssignment.net


Citizen Journalism Movement Gives More Power to the People

How nonprofits can use free online tools to tap into community voices

By Alexandra Krasne
Alexandra Krasne is Senior Editor at TechSoup.

September 11, 2006

OhmyNews is much like any other news site you'd run across online, but with one distinct difference: all of the 200-plus articles that OhmyNews publishes each day are written by citizens, not professional journalists. Launched in 2000, on a template that was only slightly more advanced than an electronic bulletin board, OhmyNews began as South Korean citizens' answer to the three conservative newspapers that dominate the country's mainstream media. Its goal? To return power to the people.

"They [the mainstream South Korean media] often don't represent public opinion," said Eun Taek Hong, Editor in Chief of OhmyNews's English-language site, OhmyNews International. "Instead, they commercialize news or focus on their own agenda. OhmyNews has been trying to give back voices to citizens." And the citizens have proven to be as articulate and credible as professional journalists, according to Hong. Moreover, other citizens are listening. A 2004 survey by the South Korean magazine Sisa Journal found that OhmyNews was the sixth most influential media outlet in the country.

As such, OhmyNews is the leading force in the rising "citizen journalism" movement, in which everyday folks are collecting and disseminating the news, opinions, and information that matter to them most. Underlying the movement is the proliferation of Web-based publishing technologies, like blogs and wikis, that give almost anyone ÿÿ or any organization ÿÿ the power to launch a media outlet. "Media tools that were once exclusively held by big companies have evolved over the Web and are now part of what the public owns," said New York University Journalism Professor Jay Rosen. "That's new and different. It's a very democratic development."

Citizen Journalism's Many Forms

Though the definition of citizen journalism varies depending on who you talk to, the act of citizen journalism can be as simple as an involved community member posting entries on a public wiki or uploading photos and videos to a media-sharing site. For instance, at Wikipedia, contributors from around the world are helping build the world's largest online encyclopedia. The whole community polices the wiki and adds entries ÿÿ the result of which is a free, international, community-owned body of knowledge. This ever-changing encyclopedia is constantly being updated and houses entries about everything from architecture to human rights to citizen journalism.

Blogging is another tool that has proven useful to the citizen journalism movement. Organizations like Community United Against Violence (CUAV), which fights to end the oppression of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) community, are using blogs to tell the stories that the mainstream media are missing. During the 2004 trial of three men accused of killing a transgender teen, CUAV started a blog to offer a view inside the proceedings from a trusted source, pass along transcripts of the trial, and create a platform for the larger community to discuss the trial.

Another nonprofit, Witness, is undertaking its own form of citizen journalism by helping other nonprofits create advocacy videos. The United Statesÿÿbased organization assists human-rights groups around the world in planning, filming, and distributing advocacy videos, which are featured on Witness' site for the world to see, serve as evidence in court hearings, or are used as an educational tool.

But Is It Journalism?

The question of whether citizen journalism is considered real journalism is still up for debate. Some may argue that only paid journalists working for traditional news outlets like newspapers and magazines are legitimate. But most bloggers contend they aren't interested in replacing the professionals, and don't even consider themselves journalists. "If I have one hundred conversations about whether bloggers are going to replace journalists, no blogger predicts themselves replacing news media," said NYU Journalism Professor Rosen. "Journalists invented [the problem of bloggers replacing journalists], and are forever discovering that this isn't true. It's their conversation they're having with themselves." What needs to happen, Rosen argues, is less arguing and more discussions about how journalism can evolve.

NewAssignment.net is an example of how journalists are reacting to the movement. Slated to launch on April 1, 2007, the site will encourage citizen journalists and professional reporters to "do journalism without the media," free of the commercial pressures that plague many news agencies. Rather than reporters and editors discussing articles in the closed confines of a newsroom, NewAssignment.net's stories would be fleshed out on the site "in the open," with a sort of open-source approach. This, according to NewAssignment's founders, means that the site's users will be the ones creating story ideas and assignments "that the regular news media doesn't do, can't do, wouldn't do, or already screwed up." The articles would be paid for through donations, which NewAssignment.net's founders believe will help encourage quality reporting.

Taking Steps to Start Your Own Citizen Journalism Movement

Though the form of citizen journalism continues to evolve, it's clear that nonprofits seeking social change or directly serving underrepresented populations may benefit from adopting some of its tenets and technologies. This could mean adding tools like blogs and wikis to their Web sites in order to give their constituents a stronger voice. JD Lasica, Cofounder of Ourmedia.org, a community of individuals dedicated to spreading grassroots creativity with videos, audio, photos, text, and other works of personal media, says that starting your own citizen journalism movement is as easy as starting a conversation.

"Invite interested members of the community to your offices and find out what they're passionate about," he said. "Experiment by letting them submit photos and videos of events they attend, which is easier to do than writing a news story. Don't be afraid to fail. See what other news organizations with similar resources have done by reaching out to talented amateurs." Most importantly, says Lasica, remember that citizen journalism is about engaging your constituents and enabling them to participate. "The digital generation wants to engage media, not just watch it or view it," said Lasica.

Copyright ©2001-2006, CompuMentor. All Rights Reserved. PRIVACY POLICY | TERMS OF USE


This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

WSJ.com - Will Wikipedia Mean the End Of Traditional Encyclopedias?

WSJ.com - Will Wikipedia Mean the End Of Traditional Encyclopedias?: "Will Wikipedia Mean the End
Of Traditional Encyclopedias?
September 12, 2006


Will Wikipedia Mean the EndOf Traditional Encyclopedias?September 12, 2006
Wikipedia, the community-edited online encyclopedia, has blossomed. It has thousands of volunteers that have created more than five million entries in dozens of languages on everything from the Elfin-woods warbler to Paris Hilton.
But the popular site has also been dogged by vandals and questions about its accuracy. In one high-profile flap, retired journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. assailed Wikipedia in an op-ed after discovering his biography had been altered to include a reference that linked him to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert. A recent study in the journal Nature, however, found few differences in accuracy between science entries in Wikipedia and the venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica, which offers short versions of articles online for free and charges $70 a year for full access, disputed the study and issued a rebuttal.

At a gathering of Wikipedia contributors last month, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales urged them to put more emphasis on quality instead of quantity. In a bid to battle vandalism, the German version of the site is testing a new feature that will let administrators flag versions of articles as "nonvandalized," and those are the pages that will be shown to most visitors.

Can Wikipedia's everyone's-an-editor approach produce a reliable resource tool without scholarly oversight? Are traditional encyclopedias like Britannica limited by lack of input? The Wall Street Journal Online invited Mr. Wales to discuss the topic with Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of Britannica. Their exchange, carried out over email, is below.

Jimmy Wales begins: We don't view the open system as inherently superior in all respects; it is different, and it has some major strengths and of course raises some important challenges. The strengths include a much greater timeliness, a much more comprehensive coverage, and the wide range of inputs means a good chance at a more balanced and more neutral coverage. The weaknesses include the possibility of vandalism, and the fact that in the current incarnation of Wikipedia everything is always a work in progress.

We do not believe that any resource tool can be reliable without scholarly input; this is why we so warmly welcome and invite the contributions of experts. It is a longstanding mistake to think of Wikipedia as being anti-elitist. Virtually every top Wikipedian I know is an elitist of the best sort: We love people who know what they are talking about.

Wikipedia is a freely licensed encyclopedia. This means that we invite anyone to take our work and reuse it freely. You can copy it, modify it, redistribute it, and even redistribute modified versions. Commercially or noncommercially. We believe that encyclopedias should not be locked up under the control of a single organization, but a part of the healthy dialog of a free society.

Dale Hoiberg responds: I agree with some of Mr. Wales's points. Clearly, Wikipedia and Britannica are very different kinds of works. Even Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson, a fan of Wikipedia's, says Britannica and Wikipedia are different animals.
But there is little evidence to suggest that simply having a lot of people freely editing encyclopedia articles produces more balanced coverage. On the contrary, it opens the gates to propaganda and seesaw fights between writers with different axes to grind.

Britannica draws from a community, just as Wikipedia does. Ours consists of more than 4,000 scholars and experts around the world who serve as our contributors and advisers. Our system is designed to produce sound, informed judgments that lead to balanced presentations of the most controversial subjects. Longer articles often involve multiple contributors and, importantly, all Britannica contributors are directed to include alternative points of view wherever applicable. We continually revisit controversial articles, and since we publish principally on the Internet we can revise them when we see fit to do that.

While Wikipedia may welcome scholars, all the reports I've seen suggest that most of the work is done by individuals who, though very dedicated, have little or no scholarly background.

On the question of editorial control, I hardly think having an encyclopedia published by one organization undermines healthy dialog, since in a free society there are many voices. A reliable and well-written reference work helps keep the quality of the debate high.

Mr. Wales: Artificially excluding good people from the process is not the best way to gather accurate knowledge. Britannica has acknowledged the value of having multiple contributors, although of course because they are proprietary rather than freely licensed they would have a very hard time attracting the kind of talent that we have.

The main thrust of our evolution has been to become more open, because we have found time and time again that increased openness, increased dialog and debate, leads to higher quality. I think it is a misunderstanding to think of "openness" as antithetical to quality. "Openness" is going to be necessary in order to reach the highest levels of quality.
Britannica has long been a standard bearer, and they have done a fine job within their model. But it is time to work in a different model, with different techniques made possible by new technologies but the same goals, to reach ever higher standards.

Mr. Hoiberg: I can only assume Mr. Wales is being ironic when he says Britannica would have a hard time attracting the kind of talent that Wikipedia has. Britannica has published more than a hundred Nobel Prize winners and thousands of other well-known experts and scholars. Contrary to Wikipedia, Britannica's contributor base is transparent and not anonymous.
The way we work with those contributors has changed in important ways, however, thanks to new technologies that have improved our process and products. Interaction with our readers and contributors has always been part of our daily routine, but the Web has enabled us to enhance this interaction greatly. Our contributors now post revisions directly into our editorial workflow system, and both they and our readers can and do send us comments and suggestions, challenge our facts, and so on.

The difference is that comments and suggestions are reviewed and checked by qualified editors before they're posted.
Another thought occurs to me, though. From where I sit it seems like Wikipedia is at a bit of a crossroads. It has grown very large and now wants to focus on quality. That's good. But despite what Mr. Wales says in this post, the road to better quality at Wikipedia seems to be paved with less openness, not more. I'm thinking of Wikipedia's consideration of a so-called "stable version" that could not be revised directly. I'm curious to know how he imagines that working.

Mr. Wales: And yet, as of today, Britannica's article about Britannica claims to be the largest English language encyclopedia, while the article about Wikipedia acknowledges our size, which is of course many times the size of Britannica.
The point I am making here is not at all ironic. Britannica's contributors, while sometimes distinguished, are relatively few in number as compared to the number of high quality people that Wikipedia is able to rely upon.

We will now be experimenting, first in the German Wikipedia, with a model of flagging versions as being "nonvandalized," while still allowing editing. Each of these steps is designed to be more open, and each is also designed to help achieve higher quality.
Britannica doesn't display its rough drafts, or the articles before being checked by a copy editor; Wikipedia does. We think this sort of open transparency is healthy and results in greater quality than doing everything behind closed doors.

Mr. Hoiberg: No, we don't publish rough drafts. We want our articles to be correct before they are published. We stand behind our process, based on trained editors and fact-checkers, more than 4,000 experts, and sound writing. Our model works well. Wikipedia is very different, but nothing in their model suggests we should change what we do.

Mr. Wales: Fitting words for an epitaph…

We have spoken openly about some of the challenges and difficulties we face at Wikipedia. Not long ago, you suffered some bad publicity due to errors in Britannica. Have you considered changing your model to allow quick, transparent responses to such criticisms as a way to achieve a higher quality level?

Mr. Hoiberg: In my last posting … I described the system we are using for feedback from contributors and users. It has proved to be very helpful in our work, but as I said, all feedback from this system is reviewed by editors and fact-checked before being incorporated into the database.

I am not sure I answered the question you were asking. If you were asking whether or not we have considered adopting the Wikipedia model (allowing any user to affect articles online directly), the answer is no.

Regarding errors in Britannica, we check out all such claims or reports carefully. Real errors are corrected, but many times these things turn out to be not true or involve some misunderstanding.

Two questions for Mr. Wales:

1. Will you please explain further how "semi-protecting" articles allows for more "openness" than did the original Wikipedia model?

2. As your administrators assume more responsibility, do you not owe it to the public to explain their qualifications and the criteria they'll be using for freezing, protecting and semi-protecting articles?

Mr. Wales: 1. In the original model, we fully protected articles, which meant that no one could edit them. Semi-protection changed that by allowing anyone to edit those entries who had an account for at least four days.

2. Of course. All of the criteria are discussed and posted openly on the site. Every action can be seen easily by any interested party, and all actions are open to public review and debate.

Mr. Hoiberg: I must point out that Mr. Wales's inclusion of two links in his question to me, one to Wikipedia itself, is sneaky. I have had neither the time nor space to respond to them properly in this format. I could corral any number of links to articles alleging errors in Wikipedia and weave them into my posts, but it seems to me that our time and space are better spent here on issues of substance.

Mr. Wales: Sneaky? I beg to differ. On the Internet it is possible and desirable to enhance the understanding of the reader by linking directly to resources to enhance and further understanding.

You wrote: "I have had neither the time nor space to respond to them properly in this format. I could corral any number of links to articles alleging errors in Wikipedia and weave them into my posts, but it seems to me that our time and space are better spent here on issues of substance."

No problem! Wikipedia to the rescue with a fine article on the topic.
Fortunately, there is a vast army of volunteers eager to help good people like you and me who don't quite have enough time and space to do everything from scratch ourselves, and they are writing a comprehensive encyclopedic catalog of all human knowledge. They have quite eagerly amassed a fantastic list and discussion of dozens of links to such articles. We are open and transparent and eager to help people find criticisms of us. Disconcerting and unusual, I know. But, well, welcome to the Internet. And yes, this is an issue of substance and a fine demonstration of the strength of the new model.

Mr. Hoiberg: Mr. Wales's explanations of Wikipedia's procedures were surprisingly unsatisfying on such issues as: Who actually decides when an article has been worked on enough and should be protected from editing for a period; How and when that status changes; and,

What qualifications the people making these judgments have. How the new procedures he has discussed recently in the media constitute greater openness in Wikipedia also remains unclear to me.

General encyclopedias are big by nature, since they try to encompass all of human knowledge. Anyone who works on an encyclopedia for any length of time understands the hazard in this: the whole endeavor can easily spin out of control as you try to take in everything that has ever been known, thought, or said. It's an impulse that should be resisted because it produces work without direction or focus.
Most of us don't need all the information in the world. We need information that yields knowledge - a practical and enlightened understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. For that purpose some information is more valuable than other information, and distinguishing between the two is crucial.

Long before the Web, Lewis Mumford predicted that the explosion of information could "bring about a state of intellectual enervation and depletion hardly to be distinguished from massive ignorance." Not only would lots of information fail to make us smarter; it would actually make us dumber by overwhelming us. The solution, he thought, was not to be found in technology alone but in "a reassertion of human selectivity and moral-self discipline, leading to continent productivity." In these days of information incontinence, in order to be part of the solution rather than the problem, I think it is important to remember this.

• Does Wikipedia's open-editing approach yield better results than traditional encyclopedias? Participate in the Question of the Day.
Write to the Online Journal's editors at replyall@wsj.com

PARTICIPANTS Jimmy Wales is Wikipedia's founder and chairman of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit he established in 2003 to operate the online encyclopedia and other projects. He is also the founder of Wikia Inc., a for-profit company that provides wiki hosting services. Before starting Wikipedia, Mr. Wales worked as research director at a Chicago-based options trading firm and founded Bomis Inc., a Web portal focused on pop culture.Dale Hoiberg is senior vice president and editor in chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., which began publication in 1768. He is responsible for the editorial division of the closely held company, which maintains a 55-million-word reference work available online and in print. Mr. Hoiberg joined Britannica in 1978 as an index editor. He held several editorial roles before being named editor in chief in 1997. He has a Ph.D. in Chinese literature.

Page One: Britannica Defends Its Turf3/24/06 • Real Time: Wikipedia's Woes12/19/05 • Loose Wire: Wikipedia Is Wicked2/16/04 We have traditionally protected articles to deal with temporary attacks of vandalism. In such a state, no one could edit those articles. We did not like this, so we moved to a system of semi-protection, and the quality improvements were impressive.

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