May 12, 2009

Wikipedia Final Exam: Passed (Journalists Failed)

Below is an excerpt from the article about a college student's inquiry into Wikipedia and journalism in the digital age. What he found out might surprise some of you or even cause a reconsideration of using Wikipedia in the classroom. Read the full article here.

Here are some highlights (quoted here, not "lifted") ;-)
Irish student hoaxes world's media with fake quote 

When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote onWikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

The sociology major's made-up quote — which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hoursafter the French composer's death March 28 — flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India.

A full month went by and nobody noticed the editorial fraud. So Fitzgerald told several media outlets in an e-mail and the corrections began.

"The moral of this story is not that journalists should avoid Wikipedia, but that they shouldn't use information they find there if it can't be traced back to a reliable primary source," said the readers' editor at the Guardian, Siobhain Butterworth, in the May 4 column that revealed Fitzgerald as the quote author.

Walsh said this was the first time to his knowledge that an academic researcher had placed false information on a Wikipedia listing specifically to test how the media would handle it.

How do you handle the use of Wikipedia in your courses and/or your own research?

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