Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, announced his plan on Tuesday to launch a new online publication that will aim to tackle fake news by employing professional journalists to lead crowdsourced investigations.
The Wikitribune will fund its journalism through donations and will allow the community of readers to subedit or fact-check stories and help decide what stories the publication will cover.
In announcing the new outlet, Wales billed the idea as “news by the people and for the people” and the Wikitribune as a place where “professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen.”
The publication, just like Wikipedia, will be available for free and will aim at complete transparency, with journalists sharing interview transcripts and source material. He also stated that the collaborative ethos of the publication would be its defense against what he called “faux neutrality” or unabashed editorial “agenda” perpetuated by the tabloids. Wikitribune is “not about chasing clicks,” he said.
Wales claims that this publication will be the first of its kind, but independently organized reporter-led community journalism are not new and have been on the rise in the age of President Donald Trump. Professional journalists are increasingly seeking the help of citizen researchers, albeit on a project-by-project basis.
After Huffington Post investigative political reporter Christina Wilkie discovered a serious discrepancy in Trump’s Federal Electoral Commission inaugural donation filing, she enlisted the help of hundreds of willing Twitter and Reddit users to comb through the submission. The research has exposed numerous instances of fraudulent and inaccurate donor records, work that Wilkie as a professional can now act on to bring this public interest story to light.
The underlying potential for Wikitribune to succeed is grounded in this tested collaboration. Reporter involvement allows a consistent and professional editorial standard to guide the crowdsourced investigation.
When this oversight isn’t present these kinds of “investigations can go bad,” a recent NiemanLab blog pointed out, citing the instance when a Reddit community misidentified the Boston Marathon bomber.
Wales is confident that this alternative model of research is not only the future of journalism but could prove a powerful force in the age of big data.
“You have an operational command structure that’s based on full-time staff. The pro journalists and editors provide the supervision on how the story moves forward. The crowd does the heavy lifting on a lot of the combing, sifting, searching, checking,” he said. “You let the crowd do what the crowd is good at.”