Tag Archives: USA TODAY

The Last Chapter in the Wikipedia Tale?

So we now know who was behind the Wikipedia Seigenthaler entry : the prankster has confessed.

It started as a joke and ended up as a shot heard round the Internet, with the joker quitting his job and Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, suffering a blow to its credibility. A man in Nashville, Tenn., has admitted that, in trying to shock a colleague with a joke, he put false information into a Wikipedia entry about John Seigenthaler Sr., a former editor of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.

Brian Chase, 38, who until Friday was an operations manager at a small delivery company, told Seigenthaler he had written the material suggesting Seigenthaler had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Seigenthaler discovered the false entry only recently and wrote about it in an op-ed article in USA Today, saying he was especially annoyed that he could not track down the perpetrator because of Internet privacy laws.

Ah, well. Next question: How many other similar entries are there?

The “Danger” of Wikipedia: “volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects”

An interesting piece in Editor & Publisher on The Danger of Wikipedia, that quotes a USA Today piece written by John Seigenthaler, a retired journalist who served as Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant in the early 1960s, says that a very personal experience has convinced him that “Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool”:

Seigenthaler writes that a “biography” on the site posted by an anonymous author libeled him when it offered the following unsourced statement: “For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.”

As the founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, Seigenthaler is not known to be an advocate of restricting the right of free speech.

Indeed, it’s hard to understand why Seigenthaler’s alleged role appeared in his biography. I could find no reference to him at all in the JFK books I have, and there’s nothing, at least obviously, online about it. Clearly it was a deliberate piece of falsification, and, to Wikipedia’s credit, it has investigated the case. The point made there is that there isn’t much one can do about chasing down vandals working via Internet Service Providers “with providers who use proxies and dynamic IP addresses to give their users complete anonymity.”

That’s not enough for Seigenthaler, and the story relates his frustration in trying to find out who had libelled him, and Wikipedia comes in for a bit of a pounding:

Seigenthaler disputes Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ assertion that the site’s thousands of volunteer editors operate a quick self-correcting mechanism. “My ‘biography’ was posted May 26. On May 29, one of Wales’ volunteers ‘edited’ it only by correcting the misspelling of the word ‘early,'” Seigenthaler writes. “For four months, Wikipedia depicted me as a suspected assassin before Wales erased it from his website’s history Oct. 5.”

Seigenthaler concludes with the following: “And so we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research — but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects. Congress has enabled them and protects them.”

Well, yes. In a way I can appreciate his frustration (and you wonder how many more libels there out there in Wikipedia-land). But I fear he overreacts. The fact that there were no edits of the page for four months — and that it took him four months to find it, or for someone to point it out to him — has more to do with how little the page was read, I suspect, than with the invidious nature of the enterprise. I’m not saying that things couldn’t be improved — indeed, according to a poster on Slashdot, some improvements are in the works in the field of validation — but I think it’s harsh to say the the universe is “populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects”. Peppered with, dotted with, sprinkled with, scattered with, speckled with, strewn with; perhaps. But overall the sum of human knowledge is significantly increased by the volunteers of Wikipedia.

The Digital Fallout Of Journalistic Plagiarism and Fakery

How do you correct the Internet?

All these reports of plagiarism and fakery in U.S. journalism — at least 10, according to the New York Times — raise a question I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. What should newspapers and other publications which have carried the reports do about setting the record straight?

A USA Today report says of disgraced reporter Jack Kelley that it has “found strong evidence that Kelley fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories, lifted nearly two dozen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he gave for the newspaper and conspired to mislead those investigating his work.”

Here’s a taster: ”An extensive examination of about 100 of the 720 stories uncovered evidence that found Kelley’s journalistic sins were sweeping and substantial. The evidence strongly contradicted Kelley’s published accounts that he spent a night with Egyptian terrorists in 1997; met a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001; watched a Pakistani student unfold a picture of the Sears Tower and say, “This one is mine,” in 2001; visited a suspected terrorist crossing point on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2002; interviewed the daughter of an Iraqi general in 2003; or went on a high-speed hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2003.”

That’s quite a lot of correcting to do. USA Today says it will withdraw all prize entries it made on Kelley’s behalf (including five Pulitzer nominations) and “will flag stories of concern in its online archive”.

But is that enough? Correcting the “online archive” would have to include all secondary databases such as Factiva (part-owned by Dow Jones, publisher of the Far Eastern Economic Review, The Wall Street Journal, and my employer; There are 1,495 USA Today stories with Jack Kelley’s name either on them or in them prior to this year). Strictly speaking, it should also include all Internet copies of those stories on the Internet (a Google search of [“Jack Kelly” and “USA Today”] threw up 3,470 matches; while many of those are accounts of the plagiarism charge, many precede that). And what about blog references to Kelley’s stories?

I’ll take an example. In 2001 Jack Kelley wrote about a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001. According to USA Today, this was one of the stories where “the evidence strongly contradicted Kelley’s published accounts”. That story has been posted on dozens of websites (I counted 60). Who’s going to correct, or raise flags on all those?

Then there’s the doubt. With Kelley claiming, according to the USA Today report, that he was “being set up”, there’s no way that even a serious investigation by the paper (which included a eight-person team, a 20-hour interview with Kelly by three veteran journalists from outside the company and extensive use of plagiarism-detection software) is going to confirm with any sense of certainty what was faked or plagiarised. So what, exactly, do you correct? Do you delete his whole oeuvre?

It’s a tough one, and perhaps a sober reminder for journalists (and bloggers) using the Internet as a source that it’s not just emails that appear to come from our bank that we need to double check. Is there a technological solution to this? A digital watermark or trace that can allow someone to instantly correct a story, or at least notify those hosting the material that there’s a problem?

Column: Klips

Loose Wire: When Push Comes to Shove

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 25 April 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

I think I can safely say it, though others have been saying it for years: Push is dead. In which case I’d like to be the first to say: Long live push.

For those of you who weren’t following closely, push was much hyped in the mid-1990s when computers were first being hooked up to the Internet in a big way. The idea was simple enough: instead of users going to Web sites to get information — pull — the information could be sent — pushed — to the user. You could then sit back and watch it all — cricket scores, share prices, headlines — scroll across your screen. For the corporate world it was an opportunity to also push ads, special offers and branding.

So what went wrong? First out of the starting gate, PointCast earned lasting opprobrium because its software hogged computer and Internet resources. PointCast retired hurt, and was eventually bought by EntryPoint in 1999, which a year later merged with Internet Financial Network Inc. to form InfoGate. This stopped offering its free ticker in mid-April, and now can only be found in the technology behind the subscription-based USA Today NewsTracker ($40 a year from newstracker.usatoday.com), which somewhat fittingly looks like the PointCast of old.

Actually, it’s not push that is dead. It’s the gravity-defying business models and catch-all products that don’t offer anything other people can’t offer for free. InfoGate fell by the wayside because it didn’t make any money. USA Today’s NewsTracker won’t, in my view, attract users because you can get the same thing free elsewhere — try the BBC’s excellent Newsline ticker (www.bbc.co.uk/newsline).

Why then has yet another scrolling-ticker business thrown open its doors to the public in the same week as InfoGate closed them? Enter KlipFolio from Serence, a small Windows program that at first blush is not much different. The scrolling is familiar; the clicking on a headline to see the full story is the same. The only visible change is that each Klip contains information from one source only, so instead of one big scrolling ticker with everything in it, from CNN to your local rag, Klips are small and independent.

Below stairs, it’s very different: a content-service provider (what you and I would call a Web site, whether it’s a magazine, news service, an auction site or whatever) adds some lines of Klip computer code so that every time they add some data to their Web site (a news story, an updated stock price, a new item for sale) that data is added to the Klip’s scrolling headlines.

Users, meanwhile, select which Klips they want to view on their screen, which will then update in real time with the new story, price or item for sale. Simple. Serence operates merely as the provider of technology to the content-service providers. For the user, the Klip software is free (www.Klipfolio.com), though Serence says some providers may charge for content in the future.

So what’s so different about this? Well, first off the software looks and works beautifully. Secondly, the back end is simple enough for content-service providers to be able to incorporate it without any extra computers, technicians or PhDs. This means that Serence is just an intermediary; it just provides a site where users can find what sources are available, and it licenses the software to the providers.

Where I believe Klips might really take off, however, is in delivering more specialized content. Sure, we can monitor Web sites, get stuff by e-mail, even have stock prices sent to our mobile phone, but imagine having a Klip that monitors, say, the prices of fast-moving items on an on-line auction site, or jobs in a particular industry.

What’s more, Serence has priced the product so that even individuals who produce specialist newsletters can jump aboard for about $100 a month. Indeed, as Blogs — Web sites that collate niche news and analysis — become more organized, Klips may emerge as a great way for individuals to provide a valuable real-time service which grateful users may pay for.

If that happens, it may well mark the coming of age of push: an information-delivery service that gives me stuff I need, doesn’t take up space and doesn’t go out of business.