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NonprofitIamA Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia and as of this week I am the founder of WikiTribune AMA!

Apr 27th 2017 by jimmywales1 • 31 Questions • 6631 Points

My short bio: Hi I'm Jimmy Wales, and this week I launched a crowdfunding campaign at http://www.wikitribune.com/ to presell monthly support for it. Wikitribune is a new news platform which brings together professional journalists and community members working side by side.

I think its strengths will be in having a good community of thoughtful people to help make sure everything is evidenced-based and accurate to that evidence, and I also think there's an interesting opportunity in the business model... I estimate that for every 500 monthly supporters at $15/month I can hire 1 journalists - so if, for example, a popular subreddit wants a full-time journalist to cover their beat... this is a mechanism for that.

Wikitribune is a completely new thing from me personally, independent of both Wikipedia/Wikimedia and Wikia.

My Proof: https://twitter.com/jimmy_wales/status/857574353315213314

UPDATE: All done, this was great, be sure to go to www.wikitribune.com and bookmark it to be ready for the launch!

Q:

Wikinews has been there for a while, and for years it has never taken off. Now: why do you need to do this outside of Wikimedia foundation, could it not be done through Wikinews?

A:

I can answer this one very well by quoting an answer I gave to a related question:

One of the greatest strengths of the Wikimedia world is a very thoughtful deliberative decision making process around major changes of any kind. It means that when change happens, it is almost always for the better. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Wikimedia world is a very slow deliberative decision making process around major changes of any kind. It means that changes happens very very slowly. The main reason I am launching WikiTribune completely independently of Wikimedia is that I think that in order to succeed I'll have to tap very strongly into one of the oldest values that led to success before: "Be bold". Or as Facebook's mantra of "move fast and break things" puts it.


Q:

Do you think you're more known as the (co-)founder of Wikipedia, or as the guy on Wikipedia always asking for money?

A:

Hahaha. A few years ago a watch company surprised me by asking me to be a model in their advertisements. The ads did very well in China for some reason.

In my internal fantasy land, I like to pretend that I'm actually most known as a watch model in China: https://amotimes.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/untitled.jpg

Ha!


Q:

Is the actual state of Wikipedia what you wanted it to become or is there things that you did not expect to happen at all ?

And related to Wikitribune, what are the weaknesses you see about this project if there's any in your mind ? Other than financial difficulties and whatnot.

A:

Hi, thanks. Yeah the actual state of Wikipedia is pretty much what I had in mind. Wikipedia has been stable in lots of ways for many years and I expect and hope that'll stay the same. Wikipedia's good. (Not perfect, of course, and there's always room for improvement!)

With Wikitribune I guess one of my main questions is the question of scale - I think if we can get to scale, it will be successful. If we aren't able to produce enough good work early on to persuade people to contribute further support, I think that means that potentially we are going to struggle to get traction. But the response so far to the announcement has been so positive that I'm feeling ok.


Q:

What if 10,000 political extremists want to pay for reporting that furthers their agenda? What kinds of checks and balances will there be to stop anti-democratic groups using WikiTribune?

A:

This is a super important point, thanks for raising it.

One of the reasons I'm not setting up a "journalism marketplace" type of system where people can directly choose journalist and pay them is precisely that this would lead to exactly what you describe. Yuck.

The key here is that there will be a strong view that neutral reporting is at our core, led by me insisting on it in the early days, and the hiring process will reflect that. Not to take too strong a side here, but if 10,000 advocates of "pizzagate" sign up to have us investigate "pizzagate" they might be disappointed with the results, because the facts of reality most likely don't really back up their beliefs.


Q:

What do you think about WikiLeaks?

A:

In general, I like WikiLeaks and I think they've done some amazing and important work.

I also think, based on many reports, that Julian Assange is incredibly difficult to work with, and I think he's caused himself endless problems and alienated a lot of people who would otherwise support him.

It's a complicated and very real human situation, that one.


Q:

Would you agree that having access to accurate sources of information is only part of the battle and that people's desire for information which supports their pre-existing biases means they might not want to read Wikitribune in the first place if it doesn't conform to their vision of the world? Also, does it worry you that the people who are going to fund you are likely already fairly media savvy and able to find the truth in the news?

A:

Well, on the first question, I think that most people do want accurate sources of information and are a bit fed up with the filter bubble world. But yeah, that's a factor to be considered.

And yes, I think there are separate challenges - making something that media savvy people and love and want to pay for is different from reaching into communities who have switched off from the news.

But in a way, I think the model leads me in a "non-snobby" direction, the same way that Wikipedia is "non-snobby". Wikipedia has excellent coverage of Pokemon - what traditional encyclopedia would have done that?

If you look at the dollars spent and time spent, the video gaming industry is much bigger than the movie industry. But newspapers write about movies all the time and make celebrities of movie stars etc., and more or less ignore gaming. But if the communities want to see more coverage of their world, that's fine with me - I'm pretty agnostic about topics.


Q:

When you say that you want to challenge the problem of fake news through evidence, how do you intend to find evidence for news stories which mention anonymous sources?

This is the core principle of journalism, in many cases the sources of a report are anonymous or are never disclosed?

A:

I think one of the reasons we have such low trust in media these days is an excessive reliance on anonymous sources. I want to lead the charge toward an attitude that anonymous sourcing is something to use very judiciously and rarely - it's much stronger to show your work.

Without it, too much of the media ends up sounding like "he said, she said". It's too hard for the public to feel solid about anything if you can't show them the evidence.


Q:

Isn't the use of "anonymous sources" used to protect whistle-blowers and other sources who don't want to be named for fear of retaliation?

Won't that hurt our chances on getting people wanting to speak up?

Granted I can see how it can be abused and all that.

A:

Yes - you've nailed it. If the purpose is to protect whistle-blowers then yes, it's important.

And I think it is abused, quite a lot, in terms of a quid-pro-quo for access. The administration wants to float something, and have plausible deniability, so they ring up a friendly journalist who is complicit in helping with what amounts to a propaganda effort.


Q:

How does it feel to know your creation is the go-to verification for 99.72% of all fact-related disagreements that occur during conversations?

A:

It still feels weird after all these years to have started something that is so much a part of the fabric of our lives. Weird in a good way, but weird!


Q:

Hi Mr. Wales. I had a few questions about the exact nature of wikitribune.

1 . On the Wikitribune site, it says:

Supporting Wikitribune means ensuring that journalists only write articles based on facts that they can verify. Oh, and that you can see their sources. That way you can make up your own mind.

How would this work in case of investigative journalism / primary research? Or is wikitribune not going to do that?

2 . As we have seen from wikipedia, controversial topics generate a lot of heat as people accuse each other of bias. How are you planning to handle this?

3 . Lastly, I am excited about this project. How can we help?

A:
  • Great. So a very large part of investigative journalism and primary research has to do with getting people to go on the record with comments and getting access to relevant documents. My belief is that to the maximum extent possible, all that stuff should be published as supporting material. In a traditional top-down setting, someone else inside the paper (usually more senior, like an editor) will review that stuff, but in my model, it should be reviewable by the community.

Now, it is true that there is a valid place for anonymous tips or people speaking off the record. But I think one of the reasons the public has lost trust in the media (see: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2017-edelman-trust-barometer-reveals-global-implosion-of-trust-300391117.html "Trust in media (43 percent) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries") is an excessive reliance on "a senior government official said" or "members of the intelligence community said"... relied on too often. Showing your work is a way to build trust.

So basically, I don't propose an absolute ban on anonymous sourcing - just a "strict scrutiny" approach.

  • Yeah, controversial topics are hard. I don't have a magic answer to that but I think there are some good social norms and values that can really help a community deal with it. "Assume good faith", "No personal attacks", "Don't push an agenda". And a willingness to ban people who misbehave.

  • Without sounding too shamelessly "sales oriented" the best way to help today is to go to http://www.wikitribune.com/ and sign up. I could have gone to investors to raise money for this but really want to maintain intellectual independence by having lots of small supporters to help me hire journalists and get started.


Q:

Do you have any pages you personally monitor that, to others, may seem trivial or odd? What's the funniest edit you ever had to correct (or ask to be corrected) but would have secretly loved to stay in?

A:

In the entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inherently_funny_word there used to be a great picture of a cow with fake horns tied to its head with the caption "According to some, cow is an inherently funny word." There wasn't really a source, so it was taken down, but man oh man I wish that were still there.


Q:

You've (personally) avoided a lot of the media attention & wealth that major tech personalities tend to attract. It feels to me like you could be much richer (but maybe I have this wrong) – Have you ever found it a challenge not to monetise your work to a higher degree in the past for the personal security high wealth would bring you & your family?

A:

Oh, I do all right. By any sane standard, I'm quite well to do. It's just a weird world in which (for example) the New York Times ran a very weird and snarky (and fact challenged) piece about me called "Jimmy Wales is Not an Internet Billionaire". WTF? Virtually everyone is not a billionaire. I'm not about to be homeless though. :)

I like to get up and do interesting things, and my work brings me the most interesting life experiences. I'm sitting in New York at the moment and within a square mile circle around me I guess there are thousands of bankers who make a lot more money than me. But they don't have anything close to the quality of life I have, because money doesn't make you an interesting person that interesting people want to meet.


Q:

Will you ever change your mind and sell advertisements on Wikipedia?

A:

That seems extremely unlikely. I'm opposed to it, the entire board is opposed to it, and there seems to be no interest in it or reason for it.

It's really something we never even discuss.


Q:

What are the threats that Wikitribune would/could face according to you (besides funding)?

A:

My goal is to be multilingual and global, but of course journalism isn't exactly legal in all parts of the world. That's going to be a challenge, but I won't compromise my principles to get access. We'll see what comes of that.


Q:

How will this platform protect against astroturfing? It seems like the platform is reliant on crowdsourcing. Can a community like /conspiracy hire a reporter?

A:

If /conspiracy wanted to hire a reporter, that reporter would be hired by the Wikitribune organization with the mission of writing about topics in the world of conspiracy theories. The results might not be what some conspiracy theorists might like, of course.

But it's actually a valid and interesting topic - what do conspiracy theorists believe, and why? That's not the same thing as supporting their tendency to wild speculation and weak chains of evidence, of course.


Q:

Great idea, Jimmy! Just had a query: Will you only allow professional journalists to write reports or can community members themselves contribute in the form of published articles?

A:

Community members can contribute as well - and all articles from whomever will be held to the same standards of evidence and sourcing.


Q:

Will WikiTribune be a reliable source for Wikipedia ?

A:

I hope so, as the threshold for that isn't impossible to meet at all. One of the things we need to do is ensure that the overall process results in good quality - a serious reputation for fact checking is key.


Q:

Thanks for doing this AMA, Mr. Wales. As a student, you have my eternal gratitude.

You obviously care deeply about facts and truth. With the proliferation of the internet, we often hear about how it's becoming easier and easier to find communities of people who share your views, and to insulate yourself in an "echo chamber". I think you'll agree that this phenomenon is bad on the whole, seeing as it allows people to get comfortable and to never have their views challenged.

Is there anything that you think should, or even can, be done on the internet to combat this phenomenon?

A:

Here's something on my wish list:

I wish that Facebook would offer me an option: "Do you want us to show you things we think you will disagree with but which our algorithm thinks may be of high quality?" Help me get out of my filter bubble!


Q:

Since there is a community aspect, do you expect that this campaign will remove bias from media or at least force mainstream media to change or rethink what they air (left or right wing)?

A:

I hope so - one of the great strengths of Wikipedia - when it is working well, which of course isn't 100% all the time - is the tendency to knock the rough edges off of bias. Of course, one issue is if all the sources are biased and a community feels strongly that all the sources are biased, Wikipedia's hands are tied. Wikitribune can go out and do more interviews, more investigation, to try to uncover the side of the story that people feel is missing - whenever that is warranted, which isn't all the time, but which will be some of the time. :)


Q:

What are you looking for in the Journalists you hire? Also have you ever lost a game of Wikirace?

A:

I think one key characteristic is to have journalists who "get" online communities and have the good sense to realize that there is great talent out in the world that should be appreciated. Of course, given the way most news websites are structured (article at the top, random commenters ranting at the bottom) there tends to be a negative view of community amongst some reporters - so that has to be overcome.

Other than that, the other thing is what I would call a very calm and neutral state of mind seems very desirable to me. Some people are very talented writers of opinions, spinning beautiful and compelling stories, but that are too wrapped up in those opinions to really match what I have in mind.


Q:

What are your favorite memories of Randolph and of growing up in Huntsville?

What is your favorite wikipedia entry? I love the ones for Sizzler, urinal cakes, and "list of fallacies".

A:

When I was little we lived close enough for awhile to where they tested the rockets (NASA Space and Rocket Center is there) that the windows would rattle. This is part of what led me to love science and technology, I think.

I also delivered newspapers as a kid, and every day they would come in a stack and I had to wrap them with rubber bands or put them into a plastic rain sleeve if it might rain. While I was wrapping them, I would of course always read the news - I think this is part of what turned me into a new junkie.

One of my favorite Wikipedia entries is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inherently_funny_word


Q:

Will you be focused on broader news(world kind of scale) or keeping it to mostly Politics?

A:

I think we'll do politics to start, because it's an obvious and interesting area, and because it feels like the world really needs it right now.

But for me the most interesting thing is whether a hybrid model of staff+community coupled with a business model of paid monthly supporters being able to request what beats are covered mean that interesting niche topics that are of great value but ignored by mass media can be successful as well.


Q:

From the posters till now, WikiTribune seems to have a design that is far more modern than other projects pf the Wikimedia Foundation. Is that the case for the website too? Also, when will be the other sister projects of Wikipedia redesigned? I understand it is a lengthy process reached upon by consensus and must work with numerous languages, butisn't the design a bit TOO dated for the World's 7th most-visited website?

A:

One of the greatest strengths of the Wikimedia world is a very thoughtful deliberative decision making process around major changes of any kind. It means that when change happens, it is almost always for the better.

One of the greatest weaknesses of the Wikimedia world is a very slow deliberative decision making process around major changes of any kind. It means that change happens very very slowly.

The main reason I am launching WikiTribune completely independently of Wikimedia is that I think that in order to succeed I'll have to tap very strongly into one of the oldest values that led to success before: "Be bold". Or as Facebook's mantra of "move fast and break things" puts it.


Q:

Is there any way that WikiTribune can provide bias-free, yet very simple True/False reports on statements made by politicians and public figures? Even cooler would be live fact-checking of public speeches, to the extent that is possible.

Services like Politifact provide that now, but they often show (or at least are accused of showing) bias, if only in the selection of their topics.

A:

Yes, I think that's a great idea.


Q:

I know that this is an archaic concern, but is there any possibility of getting a print version in the future? I'd love to see WikiTribune on sale next to USA Today and the New York Times?

A:

That'd be cool yes. I don't know. I don't know anything substantial about the economics of printing. I like the idea though.


Q:

What do you like to do in your free time?

A:

I read about boats more than I should. I dream of taking a few months off in a small sailboat in a tropical environment. Maybe I'll do it someday but I'm too excited by work at the moment. :)


Q:

How do you feel about the future of journalism with the introduction of WikiTribune?

A:

I always say that I'm a pathological optimist. I think that the news industry will get through this difficult time and find new business models to sustain quality journalism. But it's tough going right now, for sure.


Q:

What is an ideal path for someone to get considered as a paid journalist with WT? Are you primarily looking at J-school? Will community contributors have the chance to work their way into a position?

A:

I am committing to doing hiring from the community as much as possible. I do think J-school is important, not necessarily for everyone hired as a journalist, but it can be good training.

One thing I think is really important is a good state of mind about online communities. Someone who thinks that in general most of the people who try to participate are idiots, isn't really going to be comfortable working side by side with community members.


Q:

What do you consider the best part of Wikipedia and it's influence on how we learn new things?

A:

I think the best part of Wikipedia is the community. When the community is healthy and working well, which is most of the time, it's really a wonderful place. It's a great affirmation of the positive side of humanity to see so many people who are so passionate about "getting it right".


Q:

I have a question about Wikitribune. You trying to create "real news". Google and Facebook are implementing fact checking as well. Do you coordinate efforts with them? I'd be good if all big players work togeather on this.

A:

Yes, I'm in touch with people at both Google and Facebook at the highest levels. I agree with you that everyone in the industry - and not just those biggest players - should be concerned about the quality of information that people are getting. The great dream of the Internet in terms of making the world better through knowledge is one worth fighting for.


Q:

Are you concerned that an attempt at neutral journalism might give unfair attention to those undeserving of it?

E.g. a debate between a climate change denier and a scientist.

A:

See, I don't think neutrality is the same as abdicating all cognitive responsibilities.

To be neutral doesn't require anyone to say "Some say the moon is made of rocks, other say it's made of cheese". It does require treating legitimate and widely held viewpoints with seriousness.

I think I'm not alone in finding it unsatisfying how much of the climate change debate has been about saying things like "99% of all climate scientists agree". Ok, that's fine and all, but people aren't very persuaded by it, due to the perhaps romantic notion that there could be a tiny group of heroic geniuses who see through the nonsense.

Better that an argument from authority to actually explain the evidence to people.