My phone rang yesterday with a client curious about how the world knew about the Hudson River air crash before any news channels were carrying the story. Twitter, instant messaging, SMS, blogs – they all played their part.
But for the traditional news media they simply couldn’t run the story without first checking. After all, they’d look pretty dumb if it was some kind of hoax. Indeed, news outlets of all kinds have been duped by what seemed like real stories, when in fact they turned out to be false. The “Hitler Diaries” fooled two major publications, Germany’s Der Stern and The Sunday Times in the UK. So, journalists are careful about checking facts and “standing up” the story before they commit themselves to print, or to broadcasting something.
The Internet was the first with the news of the plane crash last week and that’s something the traditional media do not like. But their editorial processes, which take time, are there for a reason; to check the story and make sure no-one is trying to mislead.
Shame then that Wikipedia doesn’t have an editorial process. According to Wikipedia’s entry on Senator Ted Kennedy, he is dead. He may be unwell at the moment – but not that unwell. Wikipedia and its “editing community” are highly defensive of their “anyone can edit” policy. But things could change.
Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, has issued a suggestion that an editorial policy should be put in place to prevent the likes of the Ted Kennedy error from appearing. This has caused uproar.
Yet, the very people complaining about the infringement of everyone’s “right” to edit and contribute would be the very ones, probably, who would also complain about errors. An editorial policy may mean that things appear online rather more slowly, but it would mean that the facts are checked.
And that would help all of us. Trust in what is published online is low. We could all help improve that trust by establishing some kind of editorial policy for our own web sites, blogs and online writing. Perhaps we just have to start accepting a slower world for the sake of accuracy.