28 June 2008

To Wiki or not to Wiki, that is the question...

It is out. A few years ago, my friend Sanjit used to mock at newspaper features that ended with an impressive byline that went "So-and-so, with Internet reports"...those were the days when the Internet itself had an authoritative ring to it whereas the case was simply one of a harried writer in a hurry hacking a dubious source.
Now, the Internet is understood to be less-than-excellent, but its latter-day user-generated encyclopaedia, Wikipedia is often used by journalists, including yours truly. I confess that I use it, though it is a dubious source, but also add that I trust my own intuition, experience and cross-checking to know when to use it. Of course, I have never thus far "cited" it as a source.
Now comes an interesting article in American Journalism Review that discusses the issue threadbare.
As long as publishers don't want to spend (enough) on reportage and research, and as long as editors are not willing to cross-examine reporters and as long as reporters -- either out of laziness, ignorance or indifference -- use Wiki to meet deadlines faster or easier, the threat of information pollution is real.
Which brings me back to my favourite theme: Loser Generated Content.
Few people care to acknowledge that good journalism is both capital and labour intensive. If you are short of time or funds, reportage will tend to suffer. Somebody has to pay for it. Usually it is the reader.
Activists, well-intentioned citizens and affected parties cry foul about bad reportage, but few are ready to pay for good stuff.
I once asked a bunch of complaining folks: Will you pay 10 rupees to buy your paper?
The answer was silence, or some kind of fudging.
I used to like a lot an old VIP suitcase ad. Its punchline, based on an old Arab saying, was just right: You can't get a camel for the price of a goat!

1 comment:

Ajay Jain said...

The lazy kind of journalism can often be because more and more publications (and supplements of existing ones) come into being keeping certain target advertisers in mind. And then they need content to make it look like a publication. This is where the publishers often get it wrong - the reader will eventually junk it. Of course, the real winners in this model are successful publishing companies who just bring out a new title and offer bundle pricing with their established titles, or add pages to the existing ones.

Try reading real estate and travel pieces that come in supplements of daily newspapers.

Ajay Jain