Press coverage of Wikipedia during the past 20 years has undergone a dramatic shift, and in MIT Press' new book "Wikipedia @ 20: Stories of an Incomplete Revolution" me and Stephen Harrison highlight how the media’s understanding of Wikipedia has shifted along with the public’s understanding.
Initially cast as the symbol of intellectual frivolity in the digital age, Wikipedia is now being lauded as the “last bastion of shared reality” in Trump’s America. Coverage, we claim, has evolved from bewilderment at the project, to concern and hostility at its model, to acceptance of its merits and disappointment at its shortcomings, and finally to calls to hold it socially accountable and reform it like any other institution.
We argue that press coverage of Wikipedia can be roughly divided into four periods. We have named each period after a major theme: “Authorial Anarchy” (2001-2004/5); “Wikiality” (2005-2008); “Bias” (2011-2017); and “Good Cop” (2018-~). We claim that the “truthiness” culture of intellectual promiscuity represented by the Presidency of George W. Bush deteriorated into the so-called “post-truth” culture of the Trump White House. Together with the coronavirus pandemic, these helped recast Wikipedia as the intellectual saviour of the internet. Wikipedia’s procedural answers for the question of what is a fact, initially hailed as flawed due to their inherent beholdance to existing sources, could now be taken in a different light.
In conclusion we argue for what we term “wiki journalism” and the need for media to play a larger role in improving the general public’s “Wikipedia literacy.” With the help of the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia community, the press, we claim, can play a more substantial role in explaining Wikipedia to the public and serving as a civilian watchdog for the online encyclopedia. Encouraging critical readership of Wikipedia and helping to increase diversity among its editorship will ensure greater public oversight over the digital age’s preeminent source of knowledge.
Among other gems, the book also includes an amazing history of the battle over paid editing in Wikipedia and it is a must-have for those interested in digital intellectual history.