Wikipedia and Me #8 – “Wikipedia and the Press” or “Humbug”

A close friend of mine pointed me towards the following text published in the SZ (presumably in the weekend edition of May, 9th and 10th, in the paper version only). Here is what he wrote:

Dear Roland,
this weekend I had a little time for browsing through the SZ. The two articles in the supplement caught my attention. There is this Irish student who faked a wikipedia entry – naturally, that put another damper on my enthusiasm about wikipedia…

The second of the articles mentioned in this email referred to blogging and is also very much worth reading. But first things first…

Here is the article by that Irish student (original Süddeutsche version):

Shane Fitzgerald, 22, student from Ireland, caused some embarrassment for newspapers like the British Guardian with a fake wikipedia entry. After the death of the French composer Maurice Jarre, Fitzgerald added a self-created citation to the respective internet page, says the Irish daily paper Irish Times. Without checking where the sentence “When I die, a last waltz will play in my head, and only I will be able to hear it” originated, several 
British, Indian and Australian papers printed this sentence in their obituary for Jarre. Fitzgerald said his intention was to write a paper in sociology studies and therein test how far journalists nowadays rely on the internet and what dangers are involved.

That annoys me:

I have been trying for months to convince my friend (and not only him) that wikipedia is an exciting, serious and honorable affair. But whenever I have succeeded just a little, another one of these articles appears, making him and his wife – who is a teacher – hesitant yet again. Many teachers are very skeptical about the internet in general and wikipeda in particular. However, those are the people who are supposed to teach our children at school.

Reading about an issue I am personally committed to in the newspaper, I often discover grave mistakes. In general, newspapers are often partly or totally generous with their interpretation of the truth. As soon as a newspaper hoax originates in wikipedia, this is made a big deal of and everybody talks about wikipedia being unreliable.

Is our world not full of fakes all the time? Once in a while, you even get counterfeit Euro bills, but you still continue to like them.

Well, I find it brash when someone tries to demonstrate how dangerous it is to rely on the internet by taking a self-construed citation that actually would have been quite typical for Jarre. What I find even more stupid is for the SZ to actually print such nonsense, instead of commenting on it adequately. That is counterproductive behaviour. It would be far more important to find fellow combatants for wikipedia who could help to improve on such (small) weaknesses.

Incidentally, I only found one football player by the name of Shane Fitzgerald in wikipedia, but he is cited as being an orphan. He is also 22 years old. Does he really exist, or is that another pun by the same Shane?

(translated by EG)

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