A treemap-like breakdown of Wikipedia's topic areas as of February 2016, based on a random sampling of 1,000 articles

Should newsrooms be inspired by Wikipedia?

Many newsrooms have instructions not to rely on Wikipedia. Strict adherence to that dictum might be followed more in spirit than in practice, nevertheless, it must be taken seriously. That does not mean this gigantic, community-driven encyclopaedia’s value is any lesser. Statistics about it must make that a cinch.

According to Wikipedia: “As of 12 June 2023, there are 6,667,860 articles in the English Wikipedia containing over 4.3 billion words (giving an average of about 654 words per article). Including articles, the total number of pages is 58,332,472.”

These FF Insights, the newsletter from FoundingFuel.com reminds us that those numbers of pages largely come from very few number of contributors. The number of active contributors per month is as low as 100,000. The number shrinks further when you look at the number of people who do more than “100+ edits in a month”  — 4000 people.

FF Insights talks about a Steven Pruitt, a voracious editor of English Wikipedia, who was featured on CBS News in 2019. Pruitt’s day job apparently is as a records and information officer for US and Border Patrol Protection. Pruitt’s stats are impressive — nearly 3 million edits and 35,000 original articles! All of it for free. There must be more to this motivational story for those possessing an “entrepreneurial lens on things that matter” (the tagline of FF Insights).

Long years ago, the United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT)  conducted what they called the “first global Wikipedia Survey”.  The reasons what motivated people and the incentives sort makes for insightful reading, more than the response.

Motivation to contribute to Wikipedia.

A survey in Circa 2023 would look quite different from the one above.

Wikipedia has acquired a lot of credibility and even emerged as a go-to destination sometimes for breaking news, too. Nevertheless, the caution that newsroom leaders have towards this global platform is not entirely unfounded.

Cricket being cricket in India, the Arshdeep Singh incident would best illustrate the dangers of relying on Wikipedia entirely. Of course, the distortion introduced on his Wikipedia page needs to be discussed on a much larger canvas, but it is a worthy candidate to convince news editors not to reply entirely on Wikipedia.

The site does rank pretty high for many search keywords, besides being the source of feature snippets too. However, understanding Wikipedia’s successes and failure could inform journalism’s quest for a sustainable financial model.





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