Newspapers on Wikipedia Project: A Quick and Current Project Summary and Some Heartfelt Thank Yous

The Newspapers on Wikipedia Project is moving forward. If you don’t know what the project is about, read the brief summary on the WikiProject page, and then maybe this short Poynter story which I think explains the project more concisely than I typically have.

If you’re not into clicking links, the best summary I can provide is this:

The Data Void Problem

Wikipedia and the array of information services that rely on it have a problem.

  • Wikipedia ends up providing important credibility signals in evaluating news sources, and in particular in telling if something is from a traditional news source or an imposter.
  • These signals are part of multiple algorithmic and media literacy solutions.
  • Wikipedia provides fairly good coverage of national news sources.
  • Wikipedia provides very poor coverage of local news sources, where less than half (and possibly *much* less than half) of local newspapers have a Wikipedia page.
  • This particular “data void” has been exploited before (remember the “Denver Guardian”?) and we expect it to be increasingly exploited until we fill it in.
  • There are signs that exploiting this gap is on the menu in the near future. See, most recently, Russians Created Twitter Accounts for Fake Local News Sources.

(for an explanation of a data void issue in medicine, read this Wired article)

The Student-Driven Solution

  • We’re having students and faculty fill the gap by writing small articles on local newspapers. We’re going to try to get 1,000 written.
  • In the process, the students will learn deep information literacy skills and understandings around search, sourcing, point of view, and Wikipedia processes.
  • They also learn about the importance of local news — the ways in which it has served communities in the past, for both better and for worse.

And we think that’s an amazing trifecta: improving the information environment, developing online research literacies, and understanding the importance of local news ecosystems.

Partners, Funders, and Advisers

We are benefiting from the help of lots of people.

Eni Mustafaraj and Emma Laurie at Wellesley wrote the research article on the impact of the local news data void on students’ ability to evaluate sources, and inspired the project. And they are putting together code and people at Wellesley to help track the progress of this project in closing that void, and organizing some fall editathons to get it done.

Paul Haahr and Susan Karp literally jumped in to personally support this project on day one. Besides funding some project tracking through Wellesley, they have made a matching donation “challenge” that we will be using to further motivate students. For each newspaper article created to some minimal specifications, they will donate $25 to Room to Read, a charity that teaches young girls in developing countries to read, up to $25,000.

I’m also just indebted to them for their immediate interest and faith in this project. Paul is actually Google’s top-ranked search engineer: the fact that he grokked this idea immediately helped inspire me to add yet another project onto my rather full dance card. (I don’t regret it).

Pete Forsyth is a well-known Wikipedian who makes a living showing clients how to navigate Wikipedia ethically, explaining sometimes byzantine rules and conflicting concerns to newbies. He’s advising this project for free, helping not just me, but the  students who have already started working on this.

Amy Collier, the “first follower” that any project leader would die to have in their camp, contacted me about twenty minutes after I proposed this and said she wanted in. Her team of students at Middlebury is already kicking ass and helping us to work out the kinks in our processes before our fall semester rollout.

Wiki Education, which has agreed as of this week to coordinate with us to support students  and faculty on this project. From here forward, if you want to get started on this you can email, let them know that you want to work on the Newspapers on Wikipedia project. They will get you set up to teach Wikipedia in your classroom, integrating some of the materials and tasks that we’re pursuing, and pass you back to us for help where appropriate. They’ve been supporting people using Wikipedia in the classroom for years, so we are extremely grateful for their participation and investment in our success.

If I missed you here, I’m sorry — but I wanted to say thanks to these folks sooner rather than later. This project is starting to pick up a head of steam, and I’m thankful for all the support.


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