Wick Communications

On SOPA and Wiki

In Online media on 27 Jan 2012 at 9:17 am

If you hadn’t heard of the Stop Online Privacy Act or its companion, PIPA (no, not the English princess), before Jan. 18, you likely had after you tried to see that Wikipedia page on the Absolutely Fabulous Housewives of New York City. The Internet hiccupped that day and it seemed like a big deal, didn’t it?

I may be a bit out of my depth here, but here’s my take: The battle boils down to a tussle between big-money outfits in Hollywood and Silicon Valley and those on both sides are more interested in making money than preserving Internet freedom or intellectual property rights. In other words, I think there is room for compromise and both are being more than a little disingenuous as to their motives.

But forget all that for a moment. How did you do without Wikipedia that day?

I bet you did just fine. Journalists have flourished for hundreds of years before there was an online encyclopedia. We weren’t about to fold up because the dang thing was down for a day. But what if you awoke to a world without Wikipedia? …

Look, I gaze at Wikipedia all the time. It is sort-of the go-to site to learn about some celebrity in the news or to get an answer to a trivia question. I sometimes call it up when I’m researching something I want to report on. But I think you have to be careful about that.

As is often the case, I think the New York Times’ David Carr (follow him @carr2) put it best:

I can’t just lift stuff from there; all I can do with Wikipedia is gain an understanding of dozens of things I know nothing about.

Exactly. I think it’s perfectly fine to begin, say, a story on how Native Americans are fairing in your neck of the woods with a stroll down Wikipedia lane. It can help you gain an understanding, as Carr says. Just don’t under any circumstances copy and paste chunks of the Wikipedia page into your story. And seek independent sources to confirm what you read there.

The Internet is an unprecedented tool for reporters. It is not to be taken lightly nor taken at face value. And a day away from Wikipedia reminded me that we can live without it.




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