Wikipedia Founder’s Bold Idea: Mix Journalism With Crowdsourcing

Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia, is taking a fresh approach to the nonprofit model with his latest project, the news site WikiTribune, announced Monday.

Wikipedia has a reputation of not being the kind of place you source if you’re writing a news story. But the latest nonprofit project by its cofounder is aiming to be something you’d be proud to link to.

WikiTribune, a news website announced by Jimmy Wales on Monday, eyes a plan to both create a subscriber-funded news outlet and to ensure that the crowd gets a place on the same playing field as the journalists that the organization plans to staff the website. Those employees—the organization hopes to hire as many as 10 journalists right off the bat—will be paid by subscription pledges from individuals, though the content will be free for everyone.

In comments to the BBC, Wales spoke of combining the value of the crowd and the smarts of journalists in building a news outlet around fact-checking.

“I think we’re in a world right now where people are very concerned about making sure we have high-quality, fact-based information, so I think there will be demand for this,” Wales explained. “We’re getting people to sign up as monthly supporters, and the more monthly supporters we have the more journalists we can hire.”

It’s not the first stab at a crowdsourced news offering, and results have been mixed in the past. In 2005, the Los Angeles Times, with Wales’ input, infamously attempted to add a wiki element to its online editorial pages, only for the attempt to go down in flames. And while the Wikimedia Foundation has long run a news outlet of its own called Wikinews, it hasn’t gained the traction of its more popular cousin.

WikiTribune, in many ways, is a different approach to the issue from Wikinews—rather than a user-generated wire service approach like the existing service, WikiTribune will be driven by journalists but with crowdsourced elements. The model, which will not rely on advertising, will take on something closer to a subscription or membership approach than Wikimedia’s donation-driven structure. And WikiTribune has no ties to the existing Wikimedia Foundation—Wales specifically emphasizes on the website that it is an independent project. (That said, the foundation could certainly afford to run this site: It has tens of millions of dollars in the bank.)

In comments to Nieman Lab, American University professor Andrew Lih, who wrote the book The Wikipedia Revolution, argued that the mixture of paid and volunteer staff could prove more effective than Wikinews’ all-volunteer approach.

“You have an operational command structure that’s based on full-time staff,” Lih explained. “The pro journalists and editors provide the supervision on how the story moves forward. The crowd does the heavy lifting on a lot of the combing, sifting, searching, checking. You let the crowd do what the crowd is good at.”

Whatever the case, the site appears to be drawing a lot of early interest—the WikiTribune site has struggled to stay online since it was first announced.

(WikiTribune screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!