The Media US Politics

The Wikipedia and Character Assassination

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I know that some of the staff of Intelligent Discontent are big fans of the Wikipedia, the user-edited encyclopedia that anyone, and I mean anyone, can edit. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Wikipedia because it is community edited.

I am a history teacher and I often turn to the Wikipedia for information to help enrich my lectures. There are certain areas in which the Wikipedia has little competition. There are a wide variety of articles that go into mind-numbing detail. Often, history buffs will adopt sections of the Wikipedia and add vivid details of obscure battles and historical features providing details that are rarely unavailable online and only available in print in obscure locations.

As one might imagine, the Wikipedia is not without critics. Its founder admits problems and I have seen professional academics and librarians react with disgust when people describe the Wikipedia as innovative.

On a more personal level, I was intrigued with this article, appearing in USA Today. John Seigenthaler, a former assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy with an impressive resume, was alerted by his son to an article on the Wikipedia that made a casual mention that he was implicated in the Kennedy assassinations. As a friend of Robert, he was appalled. It details the long journey he went on to uncover his accuser only to run into an IP address and an uncooperative ISP.

The implications of this situation are widespread and I never have decided for myself where the Wikipedia fits into website reference collection. This is the questions we face under the large heading of “new media.”

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1 Comment

  • As a grader for a class I ran into the problem of whether I would accept Wikipedia as a source on students’ papers. I decided to take a hard stand and say that it was not acceptable because one could not be assured of academic integrity, but since any information that is true on Wikipedia is doubtless available elsewhere I didn’t feel that it was a particular detriment to the students.
    That being said, I love Wikipedia as an informal reference. For example, if I just want a rough sketch of some idea about which I am curious, or I want some direction about where to start investigating a topic, I will often turn to Wikipedia as a starting point.

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