Announcing the Newspapers On Wikipedia Project (#NOW)

TL;DR: I am announcing a project to get students and faculty to produce 1,000 new Wikipedia articles on significant English-language local newspapers by October 12, 2018. This will represent a substantial increase in Wikipedia coverage of these papers (An increase of 1,000 U.S. papers would be almost a 40% increase in U.S. coverage, for example). Join by doing it and telling me.


I’ve just read a stunningly good paper from Emma Lurie and Eni Mustafaraj. The paper is chock full of all sorts of insights for both the media literacy teacher (which of course I am) and the search UI/UX designer (which I was) and it feels like it was written just for me, to help me get better at what I do.

The core of the paper is this — Lurie and Mustafaraj nudged students with prompts into using lateral reading on sources, and then watched how they performed. In doing so, they were able to identify the ways in which untutored lateral reading succeeds and how it fails. This close examination yields a variety of insights in what search platforms, media literacy teachers, researchers, and others can do to better support readers in this process, as well as noting some pitfalls of current online literacy advice (including some of mine).

More on the whole paper later: here’s the part that matters right now.  One of the things that hinders students is the lack of decent Wikipedia documentation of local news sources. This, in turn, effects the information that comes up when students do lateral reading on a source, particularly in the Google panels, which readers notice but often find missing or less than helpful on smaller sources.

The researchers even quantify the issue: the USNPL lists 7,269 news sources in the U.S. Only 2,702 of those produce “knowledge panels” in Google, with the likely reason for lack of a panel being lack of a well developed Wikipedia page. Even aside from the knowledge panel problem, the lack of decent pages for local news means that students will not always be able to find any objective information, even on a deeper search.

What struck me though was that this is a solvable problem. And it’s one our students can help solve.

Students Can Learn About News While Learning About Wikipedia

Many faculty want to have their students work in Wikipedia to better understand how Wikipedia works, and to provide their students with authentic digital research projects. But finding articles that their students can add and work on is not always easy — notability requirements often lead to the deletion of student created pages.

But new newspaper and radio articles, provided they are on entities with a significant history, have a bit of an advantage in Wikipedia. Here are the notability guidelines for these sorts of articles:

Notability is presumed for newspapers, magazines and journals that verifiably meet through reliable sources, one or more of the following criteria:

  • have produced award winning work
  • have served some sort of historic purpose or have a significant history
  • are considered by reliable sources to be authoritative in their subject area
  • are frequently cited by other reliable sources
  • are significant publications in ethnic and other non-trivial niche markets

Publications that primarily carry advertising, and only have trivial content, may have relevant details merged to an article on their publisher (if notable).

These guidelines prevent you from adding your neighborhood shopper to Wikipedia, or advertising your new blog of local news. But that’s not the gap we’re looking to fill. Most papers on the USNPL that do not have Wikipedia pages have existed for decades or centuries; many are logged in the Library of Congress as significant historical publications. If students learn how to demonstrate that significant and extended history of these publications through the use of secondary sources, they should be able to easily meet notability guidelines for the papers we care to log.

In the process students will learn a number of things that will help them better evaluate news. They’ll understand the nature of local reporting, the history of it, and its importance even in an increasingly digital world. They’ll learn the names of various journalism awards and their reputation, to better help them to evaluate quality.

And they’ll also see some ugliness as well, and understand the was that local media has been used for ill. In a brief spate of edits over the weekend the random papers I pulled included one that advocated and joked about lynching at the turn of the century, and one that acted as the unofficial mouthpiece of the early Ku Klux Klan. I also noted a number of newspapers that served persons of color that were not represented in Wikipedia.

And of course, follow any paper’s history into the 1990s and early 2000s and you’ll find the same story again and again: local papers being bought out by often distant corporations with no connections to the community.

Why Historical? Why Newspapers?

To be quite honest, this is strategic on our part. Wikipedian deletionists worry — quite rightly — that small and trivial local publications may use Wikipedia as an advertising space, both to drop their promotional copy into and to juice their Google results.  Because papers with no significant history must demonstrate notability in other ways the battle about notability can become quite contentious.

We’re choosing an easier task to start — documenting existing newspapers with a significant history. We aim with this first project to pick papers 25 years old or older that have been noted repeatedly in other media due to their historical or community significance. We put “Historical” in the title to clearly signal to Wikipedia admins and others our good intentions and our prime argument for notability.

Why October 12?

It’s a safeguard. If we are not at our goal by October 10, I plan to go to the Open Education conference in New York and shame everyone into helping us cross the finish line.

You Join By Doing It and Telling Me

Here’s what you do.

Set Up Your Profile Page

First, if you don’t have a Wikipedia account get one.

Second, make a profile page on Wikipedia for yourself. Write a few paragraphs about yourself. You can be pseudonymous if you want, or let it all out there.

Add some text like this somewhere on the page (edit it to reflect you) and link to my profile page so I know about you:

Newspapers On Wikipedia Project (#NOW)

One of my current interests is improving the coverage of historic local newspapers in Wikipedia. One of the best ways for readers to sort out whether a newspaper is real or fake is to check Wikipedia to see if it has an article (and what that article says). Having newspapers documented is also crucial to Wikipedia internally, since many historical claims are sourced to local papers, and editors require context on the nature of the publication the material appears in.

Yet only 38% of local papers have a Wikipedia page. The problem is particularly bad with weekly papers in small towns, even though many of these papers have publication histories going back to the 1800s. I am participating in a project initiated by Michaelacaulfield in this area to improve the quality and reliability of local news sources, particularly historic newspapers.

Again, link to my userpage as above so I can find people doing this. Eventually we’ll get a WikiProject page set up but this will work for now. Tweet any edited or created pages to Twitter’s #NOW hash.

Putting this information on your page will help people reviewing your edits and creations to understand what you are trying to achieve.

Gnome Before You Create

Don’t jump right into creating pages. Spend a week or two visiting existing pages on local newspapers, seeing how they are set up, and making minor improvements in language, citation, or formatting.

This is called gnoming, and a history of gnoming demonstrates you are interested not in self-glorification or grinding a specific axe, but making Wikipedia better. WikiGnome actions are listed here, and doing them will make you a better writer and editor of articles. You can find some articles to gnome here.

More importantly, however, a person who has made useful edits and additions to a wide variety of other people’s pages builds social credit, and is less likely to have their pages deleted without a conversation first. You build the credit gnoming, you spend it creating new pages.

After gnoming, you might want to expand further out into making significant additions to pages.

Don’t Create Your New Page Until You Know How to Establish Notability

Once you’ve gnomed for a week or two, you’re ready to create a new page. You can go to the USNPL list or another list of local newspapers and start looking for ones that aren’t covered. But you should be careful before creating them, since it’s important to get new pages right on the first go.

If you’re a seasoned Wikipedian, you know how it works:

  • Secondary sources (multiple if possible) to demonstrate notability.
  • Use Google Books to find strong supporting links.
  • Reference information on collection records at the library of Congress.
  • If you have a account, search for coverage of your paper by other papers.
  • See if the paper is linked to any otherwise notable figures.
  • Try to get down the complete history of ownership — to the extent the history of changes in ownership were noted publicly by significant secondary sources it establishes notability, and it will also serve to get a broad array of citations in the article from the get-go.

Do all this before you launch, because in my opinion people have it easier if they get it right from the start.

If you’re not a seasoned Wikipedian, don’t fear. I’ll do up a video guide on how to write a notable stub on a local historical newspaper soon.

More soon.

6 thoughts on “Announcing the Newspapers On Wikipedia Project (#NOW)

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