The Daily Mail flails

The Daily Mail didn’t like Wikipedia’s decision too much, it seems.

Last week, the English language Wikipedia made a fairly routine decision, banning most Daily Mail content as a source for its articles. Wikipedia editors take this kind of action all the time, but this may be the first time the online encyclopedia has drawn such a strong conclusion about the credibility of a prominent news outlet, or that such a decision was widely covered in the press.

The Daily Mail issued a response, as quoted in full in the Press Gazette, and elsewhere. The response utterly misses the point, though, and underscores the depth of the Daily Mail’s failure to grasp an important element of the evolving media landscape it occupies.

Here’s a point-by-point rebuttal, from my perspective as a longtime Wikipedia administrator, and a longtime observer of the intersection between Wikipedia and journalism:

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at this move by Wikipedia —

Glad to see you reached a decision on that one…I’m wiping your tears off my keyboard as I type.

a website that is notorious for its own inaccuracy and false truths,

This may be the one legitimate point in the statement, but it’s misplaced. Wikipedia, with more than 5 million articles, has certainly had its share of controversies, many self-inflicted. What Wikipedia tends to do pretty well, though, is to acknowledge, correct, and learn from its mistakes. Wikipedia also maintains a clear record of the changes, allowing critical readers to be fully informed when they evaluate its actions. The Daily Mail’s own record around corrections, however, is not exactly pristine.

and which was co-founded by a man who doctored his own biographical entry.

Jimmy Wales, who has no special influence over Wikipedia’s content, is as controversial a figure within the ranks of Wikipedia editors as he is in the wider world. Non-sequitur, cheap shot. Next.

For the record the Daily Mail, in common with most reputable academic institutions, banned all its journalists from using Wikipedia as a sole source in 2014 because of its unreliability.

This is a decision most Wikipedia editors would endorse — but why wait until 2014? No encyclopedia should be used as a source for authoritative reporting, least of all one that prioritizes the ability of everybody in the world to edit and improve its contents. The Daily Mail was correct to make this decision, but putting it off from Wikipedia’s founding in 2001 until 2014 leaves an inexplicable 13 year gap.

Last year, the Daily Mail and Mail Online together published more than half a million stories and yet received just two upheld adjudications each for inaccuracy from the UK Industry’s regulator IPSO.

Notable that the Daily Mail chose a one year period to cite. The incidents considered by Wikipedia editors went back further than that, as well they should.

This so-called ban

“So-called”? Call it whatever you like, it’s your statement. Here’s the first sentence from the Wikipedia decision: “Consensus has determined that the Daily Mail (including its online version, dailymail.co.uk) is generally unreliable, and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist.”

by Wikipedia came at the end of a month-long ‘debate’ — triggered by a clearly obsessive newspaper-hater who hides behind the pseudonym ‘Hillbillyholiday’ —

It’s a piddling detail who started the discussion. It doesn’t matter what pseudonym they chose, either, but nice job taking a shot at a volunteer who’s made 20,000 edits in a five year period — many of them to decidedly non-political articles.

What matters is the reasoning involved — which is maintained for all to see and evaluate.

which attracted just 75 votes from Wikipedia’s 30 million anonymous registered editors.

75 is pretty healthy participation for such things. Tell us, in all your expertise about Wikipedia’s governance processes, what number would you like better — and why do you think more participants would lead to a different decision?

If you have good evidence that it was the wrong decision (which you have not presented in this statement, for what it’s worth), it will surely be overturned, because a whole lot more than 75 Wikipedians are aware of the issue now.

The debate

Just one sentence ago, you had “debate” in scare quotes. Call it whatever you like — we usually call it a discussion, and it’s followed by a decision.

makes it abundantly plain that the majority of those calling for the Mail to be banned were driven primarily by political motives.

Allegation. No evidence. Precisely what “political motives” do you suspect? And is there any basis whatsoever for that suspicion? Presumably not, or you would have presented your case the first time.

The so-called ‘vote’ was then endorsed by five anonymous administrators after a secret email exchange

Can you point us to the link for all the email exchanges among Daily Mail staff?

What does the privacy of the email exchange have to do with anything? The reasoning is public. If you had a legitimate quarrel with it, surely we would have heard it by now.

For what it’s worth, multiple administrators endorsing a decision typically indicates that the result of the discussion was clear, to a group of people who have been elected based, in large part, on their understanding of Wikipedia policy. Having five people sign it is a step that can mitigate the kind of ad hominem bullying you just perpetrated against the person who initiated the discussion.

and then deliberately leaked to the media.

Leaked? Are you joking with me right now? It’s on a public web site! Everything significant about this is on a public web site. Even if a private email exchange did take place, who cares? It has no binding value.

Leaked? Seriously? I hope this isn’t the kind of reasoning you bring to your news coverage…

All those people who believe in freedom of expression should be profoundly concerned at this cynical politically motivated attempt to stifle the free press.

OK wait, let’s get this straight: one media outlet makes a decision not to cite another, according to its usual processes and of its own free will. Exactly how is press freedom impacted? Oh, it was your “freedom” to get links from a central knowledge repository? Sorry, that’s not a right or a freedom. It’s a privilege — one that’s earned.

If the Daily Mail cares about being cited in Wikipedia as much as it would appear, the path is pretty straightforward, and not at all new: report facts, avoid misinformation, fix problems when you slip up, and take responsibility for your role in society. Changing your practices and communicating the changes clearly might make a difference; whingeing about it and mocking Wikipedia editors will not.

These principles are as old as the practice as journalism. The only thing that’s new is that one of the world’s biggest websites is watching, and making decisions for itself based on the actions you take.