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Plurality, not neutrality.

<![CDATA[New Media Musings: The Times looks at Wikinews: Yesterday’s New York Times looked at Wikinews, “the Unassociated Press.” It’s the latest offering from Wikipedia, founded by Jimmy Wales…. Excerpt: Central to Wikinews is its commitment to neutrality, said Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia and president of the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. In a community that […]

<![CDATA[New Media Musings: The Times looks at Wikinews:

Yesterday’s New York Times looked at Wikinews, “the Unassociated Press.” It’s the latest offering from Wikipedia, founded by Jimmy Wales….

Excerpt:

Central to Wikinews is its commitment to neutrality, said Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia and president of the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. In a community that largely sets its own standards, Mr. Wales’s policy of a neutral point of view may be the single most important driving principle.

I don’t think neutrality is realistic. During the chat about the wikinews project, the acronym NPOV kept coming up. Anyone who believes there is a neutral point of view in any meeting of people, including the meeting of an observer with an event, should rent Kurasawa’s Rashomon and watch it. Even the woodcutter’s story is rife with subjectivity. People who believe their own point of view is neutral are kidding themselves.
Any civic journalistic endeavor should be based on pursuit of plurality, not neutrality.]]>

5 replies on “Plurality, not neutrality.”

You seem to have missed the point. Neutral point of view is about all sides to a story being represented; not representing none. Further, Wikinews is collaborative – no story has to be written by just one person. Even if a story does present a certain point of view, there’s nothing to stop someone else coming along and correcting it.

I don’t think so, because I am not referring to the writing of a story but to the adjudication of disputes. I went into this in great depth a couple months ago here.
Specific questions that still remain unanswered: Who can “lock” a story and what are the criteria for that decision? How does the news system deal with a concerted attack on a particular view in a story, as with the George W. Bush Wikipedia article? It would be very easy for a small group with an agenda to derail coverage by charging it is inaccurate.
The transparency of wiki goes a long way to solving some of these problems, but in a news environment, as compared to an encyclopedic one, these explicit roles—editor with locking priveleges, critic of a POV, and especially what neutrality itself is—need to be explicitly identified and accountable.

Hey Mitch, I am an admin for Wikinews – sorry I missed the chat with you. Let me try to address some of the issues you rightfully pointed out:
1. Story locking. Only administrators (any administrator – as of today there are 9 of us on Wikinews) can “lock” and “unlock” stories (called “protecting” in wiki argot) from being edited further. Reasons include: Repeated vandalism, archival purposes for old stories, or pages that are statistical in nature, contain vital software routines or are not public. Who makes the decision? Any administrator may make one unilaterally protect a page at any given moment – for any reason he/she deems necessary – BUT those actions are logged and any other administrator may unprotect a page if he/she doesn’t agree with the reasoning of the first action. Basically this works on the concept similar to an Editorial Board – except here the board (Administrators) may be overruled by the journalists via democratic straw poll. … something that doesn’t exist in the average newsroom bureaucracy.
2. What is Wikinews? I think you are close to hitting a nail on the head here. This is a debate that we are currently in at Wikinews. WN is NOT an encyclopedia, nor is it an academic effort. We are in the messy process of developing the process of who we are and what we stand for. Right now we are top heavy with chiefs and do not have enough Indians… which is typical of a new wiki project (Wikipedia started the same way). You are invited and encouraged to lend your viewpoints and experience. Wikinews needs people like you to point out potential pitfalls and provide insight.
3. Neutrality vs. Plurality. The Wikinews neutrality dictate is similar – very similar – to any quality news organization’s mandate that stories not be one sided. In fact, the wiki process allows for multiple writer input – which should help ensure that as many relevant sides of an issue are addressed as possible. This rule is basically there to keep the wiki project from becoming a personal rant by a particular individual espousing a single viewpoint. In practice, Wikinews operates on a near consensus; which is very close to the plurality you talk about. (And, thankfully, we are getting closer every day.)
4. Realistic neutrality? The fact that some stories are chosen to be written and others are not – because of personal bias of the original contributor – proves your point that true neitrality cannot exist in a creative medium. No news story endeavor can be truly neutral since the passion or bias of the writer affects story selection, placement, choice of sources and order of facts. A truly “neutral” story would be boring since it would have no life, passion or sense of urgency. Wikinews does not strive to be neutral in that way. It strives for a “neutral point of view” (NPOV) in presentation of the news — meaning that it will not advocate for any one side in any issue. The NPOV policy is an ideal so that the personality and personal biases of the writer has limited impact on the conveyance of the message. As an ideal, it is a goal which is not always realistic – but it serves a purpose of reminding the writer to be thoughtful.

David—Thanks, this is a lot of great information to have at hand. I still have a very significant concern about the ideas in 3 and 4, because they appear to assume that one story can encompass a plurality. I’ve always understood that multiple authors can contribute to a wiki aricle, but I question whether one story is the appropriate venue for many points of view. There is always a limit to the information and sources available in one story.
I’d be much more supportive of the idea that WikiNews created multiple stories about a specific event (even a city council meeting) when there are distinct differences of opinion about fact, which you know from our work together is a possibility on any story.
I also believe the some process of volunteer article writing combined with volunteering to take assignments about subjects that may otherwise go uncovered would go a long way to reduce the influence of “staff” bias.

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