Blog Topic 8: Newsiness

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2010 at 2:10 am

Last week you were tasked with comparing the credibility of Wikipedia with a traditional published encyclopedia. Your blog topic for this week is an extension of that same theme, with a slight difference: did anything we showed you or discussed in class change your mind from your initial position? What about traditional news outlets—how would you compare the credibility of Wikipedia, particularly around breaking news?

Not to say that I wasn’t fascinated by some of the phenomena occurring in Wiki-universe that were pointed out, but I was personally much more shocked and appalled by the revelations of the Google class than last’s week’s exploration of the online encyclopedia. Nothing offensive or troublesome enough to alter my answer to last week’s blog post arose during discussion.

In fact, if anything, our discussion of the upcoming Wikipedia project actually reinforced my opinion last week – knowing how difficult it is to edit or create a Wikipedia page makes me more apt to stick with my preference for it over a traditional encyclopedia for day-to-day usage. There are many, many alternatives to traditional encyclopedias, many places where you can cull the same information found in their beautifully bound pages. But there is really nothing comparable to Wikipedia in either depth or breadth.  And that makes it a very valuable tool for a variety of tasks, be they for personal edification or clarification of modern parlance and pop culture.

The second portion of this week’s query – a comparison of Wikipedia to traditional news outlets – is thought-inducing. It seems like a simple question at face value: Who in the world would say that Wikipedia is a better source of news than NBC? But then you start thinking, really thinking. Thinking about things like NBC’s announcement of Gore as president on a November night in 2000. And then the annulment of that announcement – Gore is president. No, wait, Bush. Actually, let me walk over here and point my laser at this blue-and-red map and say the word “Florida” fifty times before telling you that I’m actually not sure who is president.

Could Wikipedia users have told me who the 43rd President of the United States would be on that November night? No. Not even if they were all Florida voters. So maybe Wikipedia can’t trump mainstream reportage (in this case, that of the television news media) on every occurrence of public importance. But it certainly doesn’t come off as all that inferior to the mainstream news, either. Especially in a world increasingly flooded by news of rapidly-occurring unforeseen events – tsunamis, terror attacks, and, yes, celebrity incarcerations.

I mean to compare Wikipedia with the television news only, as I think a comparison with the online print media would be unfair. I will always place higher value and credibility in the New York Times and Guardian websites than Wikipedia. Because just as Wikipedia has real-time contributors pouring their real-time observations into it’s matrix from all over the world, so now do mainstream news websites. Tips, photos, and commentary from readers and users is now an integral part of the New York Times site. And like WIkipedia, users of these sites can contact the paper and contribute immediately and with hardly any more editorial barriers than those presented by Wikipedia’s many informal gatekeepers.

However, the television news is a different story altogether. My disgust with TV news (Yes, nearly all of it. With the possible exception of the Brits and Jim Lehrer (whose biggest challenge in culling my favor is his insomnia-curing delivery and not wholly unrelated obsession with bus memorabilia), I think hardly any of it is worth an infinitesimal fraction of the amount of advertising dollars contributed to keep it afloat. In fact, I hate it so much that listening to even 10 minutes of something as innocuous as Good Morning America that doesn’t even go so far as to claim it’s hard news makes me want to pull my hair out.

When something of import happens, be it a terror incident or a Lohan DUI, the TV news media practically begs their audiences to send in their PDA snapshots and eyewitness commentary. They seek people out who will say things like, “Oh my God, it was like so awful. I mean, like, I’ve never seen someone that drunk! She was like practically sliding into the floorboard; I could tell even through her opaque windows! If she had run the stoplight five seconds later she would have like massacred an entire family, or at least those drug lords from Silver Lake who stand on that corner! I’m pretty sure she had heroin in her system, too! At least, that’s what it looked like from where I was standing – practically RIGHT. IN. HER. PATH. – twelve-hundred feet away!” Cue sobbing. Unfair or not, that’s my perception of TV news. And in lieu, I’ll take Wikipedia any day.

Furthermore, I’m not sure I’m always so convinced that the flood of graphic, shaky, and shocking images that loop on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News alike do us any good from an actual hard news perspective. Increasingly, as the quality of accompanying commentary diminishes, these images are allowed to speak entirely for themselves. I am usually a proponent of this: View it, contemplate it, and think what you will. But the problem is that when only the most shocking images makes the cut, letting them speak for themselves will lead to perceptions of disproportionate hysteria and paranoia. Which in turn leads to things like Birthers. And 911truth.org. And this one. And, say what you will, I find this mildly troubling.

Compare to Wikipedia. Yes, the page may eventually have some images. And in the situation of rapidly-occurring events, there may be some early dramatic in-text editorializing. But nearly as soon as it appears, if it’s irrelevant or biased, it’s gone and replaced by more accurate and balanced information as it becomes available. And instead of sitting through the daft babble of speculating talking heads and the rote exclamatory dramatics that provide the soundtrack to the equally dire imagery, I can just refresh a Wikipedia page and literally watch the world as it occurs. This from the un-made-up eyes of people whose brains aren’t addled by harsh lighting and probably contractual deals with PTSD treatment centers. It may be words and not pictures. And it may be cooldude22 instead of Chris Matthews. But it, at the very least, gives me a window to the world from the unembellished, ground-floor level from which I live my life.

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