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Could Wikitribune Counter Fake News?

We are just over one-third of the way through 2017 but “fake news” is already seemingly the year’s major news story. Media manipulation is nothing new, but that has taken a concerning twist in the last few years as random websites simply make up stories to spread through social media. Most fake news comes from bloggers, their stories unverifiable. There are many ways to combat this, not least of all educating people in identifying it, but in this ongoing battle, there is a new outlet media from the founder of Wikipedia.

News media is highly influential. Fake stories spread for many reasons – firstly we still see news articles as authoritative. Secondly, they often appeal to people’s prejudices about individuals and groups. When we are prepared to believe any negative story, we tend to share them thoughtlessly. This is how fake news spreads and it’s not limited to one particular political side.

How Will Wikitribune Work?

It is hoped that Wikitribune, a new news site from Jimmy Wales (one of the co-founders of Wikipedia) will generate interest and money in the same way Wikipedia supports itself. It will rely on volunteer contributions, both in terms of news reports and editing events as they happen. Much like Wikipedia, it will be funded entirely by donations and not advertising (which has seen the rise of “clickbait”). The site will always be driving more fundraising through the site, but contributions will not be compulsory. Either way, the content will be free to read and share.

fake newsWikipedia has been a source of amusement in that anybody can edit the content, but it has proven reliable on many things purely through the ability of everyone being able to remove erroneous or misleading information. Users will have a chance to build a reputation through backing up sources with reliable news outlets. Wales said that the admin team will be small with a handful of (paid) journalists, relying mostly on volunteer contributions.

In future, it is expected that most mainstream news media sites will require a subscription, meaning that fake news spread by other means could potentially propagate further as people seek free news outlets.

How Wikitribune Will Attempt to Minimise Bias

We are all biased; it’s part of human nature. Our skin colour, country of birth, personal politics and even our age determine how we look at the world. Having bias is not so much a problem. Realising this, the Wikitribune team as a group will decide what news stories will make the site on a daily basis. Volunteer contributors will have some influence over the content. If there is a big news story, it will make the site. Users will not be able to petition the contributors to cover certain stories. That way, the decision is made as a group in order to minimise one agenda becoming more important than other issues.

Will Wikitribune Appeal?

The question that most are asking is whether crowdfunding will work for a news site. When Wikipedia started up, this method of funding a site was relatively new. Wikipedia succeeded because it was new and able to build a solid reputation and a reliable user early on. Some doubt whether it can raise the necessary funds to stay in business long enough.

Undoubtedly, fake news and shoddy journalism and clickbait need tackling. However, there are already many major alternative news sites trying to fight back against the tide of poor reporting. Those who want impartial and high-quality journalism already know where to look for it. A news site from the founders of Wikipedia may sound like a superb idea but the concern is that it will be lost in the sea of alternative media sites.