(NOTE: This is cross-posted from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits weblog.)
I recently had an interesting discussion where a fellow journalist criticized my decision to cite a Wikipedia page as a resource in a publication specifically intended to provide leads to journalists. In a nutshell, he contended that since anyone can edit Wikipedia, it has no credibility.
Here’s why I disagree, and why I think Wikipedia is in some respects an ideal resource for reporters…
My colleague’s perspective isn’t unique. Many people doubt Wikipedia’s credibility, but over time I’ve found it’s proven to be a remarkably reliable and responsive repository of information. It’s especially useful for following on fast-moving or niche topics.
Of course, the information in Wikipedia or from any source should not stand alone. I personally consider Wikipedia to be a good source of leads, overviews, and basic definitions. And for those purposes I actually respect it more because it is a collaborative project.
When searching for leads, it always helps to access a diverse base of perspectives. Therefore, in the context of a publication intended to provide journalists with ahead-of-the-curve leads, Wikipedia is especially appropriate.
Journalists find good leads wherever they’re available, and then double- and triple-check that information elsewhere. In that respect, I don’t think Wikipedia offers any less credibility than, say, a government official, advocacy group, or professional organization sources that most journalists routinely consult in the course of reporting.
Would I cite Wikipedia as the definitive resource on any topic? Well, that would depend on the topic, but probably not. However, it’s an especially robust starting point for nearly any topical research project, and it’s a great way to stay abreast of changes.
Don’t dismiss it too easily.