Hoax Leads to questions about journalists’ use of Wikipedia

As more newsrooms relax restrictions on using Wikipedia for background research, every now and then something comes along that should make every journalist cautious about using it.

PoynterOnline reports that in early 2009, a 22-year-old student in Dublin, Ireland, created a Wikipedia hoax that led several major news outlets to publish a fake quote. The quote ran in several obituaries about French composer Maurice Jarre, and the hoax might not have been corrected if the hoaxer himself had not notified the news organizations.

The student claimed he placed the quote on the Web site as an experiment when doing research on globalization. He wanted to show how journalists use the Internet as a primary source.

Where journalists failed, however, MSNBC reports that Wikipedia passed: News organizations “used the fabricated material … even though administrators at the free online encyclopedia quickly caught the quote’s lack of attribution and removed it.”

Standards of good journalism remain fundamental to the job

In “‘Old journalism’’ standards that shouldn’t die,” Gina Chen argues that even as news media undergo a major transformation, journalists must not lose track of standards such as accuracy, impartiality and careful editing. Most of all, however, it comes down to quality: “With so many options for readers, you have to be good to expect anyone to read you and keep reading you.”