Hoax Leads to Questions about Journalists’ Use of Wikipedia

A 22-year-old student in Dublin, Ireland, recently set up a Wikipedia hoax that led several major United Kingdom news outlets to publish a fake quote after they used the socially-curated encyclopedia site to get information about French composer Maurice Jarre, who died in March. The hoax was left unnoticed for weeks.

Genevieve Carbery of The Irish Times reported this week:

“The quote … was posted on the online encyclopedia shortly after [Jarre's] death and later appeared in obituaries published in the Guardian, the London Independent, on the BBC Music Magazine Web site and in Indian and Australian newspapers.
“Mr. Fitzgerald said he placed the quote on the Web site as an experiment when doing research on globalization. He wanted to show how journalists use the internet as a primary source and how people are connected especially through the internet, he said. He picked Wikipedia because it was something a lot of journalists look at and it can be edited by anyone, he told The Irish Times.
While some newsrooms used to ban Wikipedia altogether, the site is increasingly being used as a source of background information during the beginning stages of reporting.

Writer Steven Walling created a great presentation about journalists and bloggers using Wikipedia (found via Publish2′s Ryan Sholin). In the presentation, Walling cites the importance of reporters understanding how Wikipedia is curated and, most importantly, why reporters need to check the facts they find.

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