Yes, the News Is Broken. But Can WikiTribune Fix It?

WikiTribune is raising money to hire reporters for its new news enterprise.
WikiTribune is raising money to hire reporters for its new news enterprise.

Sometimes it's a real battle to find out what's really going on out there. Unless you follow the newswires – once only the domain of news companies but now freely available online – it's hard to know which version of reality is being peddled to you on any particular day by the media. It's undeniable they want to skew what's happening to how they desire the world to be. Often, they are well out of touch with their audiences.

In the months leading up to the US presidential election last year, the hyperventilating New York Times was continually declaring that – based on polls, a proprietary algorithm and anything else it threw into its forecasting cauldron – its favoured candidate, Clinton, had a near 90 percent chance of beating Trump (occasionally even closer to 100 percent). Is it any wonder the winner, however roundly despised, has declared war on "fake news"?

In Britain, the equally left-wing and similarly financially imperilled Guardian has long since lost its way, its pages, online and off, stuffed with pleas for all of us to open our arms to "refugees" from all over and refusals to utter the "M" word when a new Islamic-inspired atrocity occurs.

Its opinion section is home to outrageous and extreme misandry that's an insult to the common man – to such an hysterical, rabid extent that one writer holds the view that all men and boys should be locked up in concentration-style camps and another has declared she hates half the world's population (men). Is it any wonder the Guardian, predicted to lose £90 million this year, is axing staff and reduced to begging for donations? There, as elsewhere across the tumultuous media landscape, the editors are blinded by their self-serving ideology (and that of their corporate overlords) and truly cannot see what the truth actually is.

Elsewhere, and it's a real race to the bottom. Newspapers' websites and stand-alone net news are engaged in a vacuous and frankly absurd presentation of events in a cyber-war of the clicks. Headlines are no longer headlines but statements; and they no longer do their job of summarising a story in scant words but attempt to arouse (and dupe) so we will click on in and the publisher will get a few ad cents.

The breathless "just" has crept into headlines to add extra unnecessary urgency (President Trump just had his bluff called — again: -- Washington Post, in case you didn’t link-click, an Amazon-owner paper with the new and pretentious online maxim Democracy Dies in Darkness). Stories are dished up as exhaustive lists and a whole new array of online clichés has emerged – a snippet that was shared many times on social media "went viral", we are told, and it's no wonder readers are sick of the entire show.

Enter Jimmy Wales, the would-be saviour of the news world. The founder of the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has had enough of the nonsensical frenzy of online "news" and is aiming to do something about it. So what is the 50-year-old American's new approach to current affairs? The effort is called WikiTribune and it makes the grand claim that "we can fix" all the broken news out there.

Just as Wikipedia operates on contributions and is entirely ad-free, so too will this be the operating policy of the new news enterprise. This, says, WikiTribune, will ensure there are no clickbaity headlines to lure unsuspecting readers in. The site will have other Wikipedia features too – notably the controversial anyone-edit function that has landed Wikipedia in fake-facts hot water on many an occasion.

With WikiTribune, readers "can flag or fix an article and submit it for review," says preliminary information on the site, and it's also aiming to put a firm focus on reader comments – those long threads of opinions below stories that are often more insightful and entertaining than the article itself. "We believe the community can play a more important role in news. WikiTribune puts community at the top, literally," says the site.

Initially, WikiTribune is looking to hire 10 journalists, funded by monthly contributions from supporters. That would appear to be a goal that's easily reachable for a nascent news organisation whose founder and his main site are globally recognised. And, indeed, as of writing, WikiTribune is almost halfway there with its fundraising-recruitment drive. But if it somehow flails or outright fails to reach the minimum 10 reporters hired, "we will refund all our supporters," it says.

WikiTribune has cooked up what it calls a "radical idea" in creating the publication. "You," it boldly declares, "are the editor." How so? "WikiTribune takes professional, standards-based journalism and incorporates the radical idea from the world of Wiki that a community of volunteers can and will reliably protect and improve articles," is apparently how.

Mr Wales himself said, "I think we're in a world right now where people are very concerned about making sure we have high quality fact-based information, so I think there will be demand for this.”

Can the enterprising enterprise really do it and fix our broken news and deliver the facts as we need them? It’s an audacious task. Clearly, with just a handful of journalists reporting on news as it happens around the world, they will be stretched to their professional limits. Can the community of readers give them a dig out, and keep them honest in the process? If Wikipedia is our guide, the answer may well be in the affirmative.

That may be good news for everyone.

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