It's time to stop pretending the English-language Wikinews is a viable project
- Adam Cuerden, an image restorationist and stalwart at the featured picture process, has been a Wikimedian since 2007.
- The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author only; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section. The Signpost attempted to find a Wikinews editor to trial a "Room for debate"-style opinion article, but invitations to four prominent editors and a Water cooler post were rebuffed.
72.2% of edits were done by the top 6 contributors. 88.3% of edits were done by the top 16 users - and no-one below the top 16 did more than 20 edits.
After a Request for Comment on English Wikipedia's Main Page, a strangely-prominent link to the English-language Wikinews was removed from the "In the News" section, a section of the Main Page dedicated to promoting articles on Wikipedia that have been updated to reflect sudden new events.
"In the News" does a very good job at constantly providing new material, with about one or two new, updated articles every day, covering events in an encyclopaedic manner, and helping to keep Wikipedia updated. Its existence encourages Wikipedia articles to be kept up-to-date, and, by insisting the new material is well-referenced, it also helps maintain quality, and therefore can be considered a successful addition to Wikipedia. Even if "In the News" didn't update every day, Wikipedia would still have a lot to offer. Its archives remain a useful resource, and the various other Main Page sections provide new content. Even updates to articles that attempt to get onto Wikinews and fail to be accepted likely represent an improvement to the encyclopaedia.
However, Wikinews is a rather different project. Wikinews attempts to substitute for a newspaper or news magazine, and thus needs to update quite regularly, but does not update on any specific day more than one-third of the time, and there are often gaps of three days between news stories. If a story is not accepted, it is deleted, losing all work done. As news reports often only represent a tiny sliver of the main story, or are mere trivialities in the larger scheme of things (e.g. "Duke of Edinburgh leaves UK hospital following exploratory surgery", "Air Pacific re-brands as Fiji Airways"), most of Wikinews' archive is likely of little value.
However, Wikinews' biggest problem is that it has so few editors that it has essentially become a vanity project. The active users list gives just 133 users who have made any edits at all in the last month, including 6 bots. As seen in the pie chart leading this article, one user has 45.8% of all non-bot contributions, and it rapidly tails off after that. That's a few users' vanity project, not a viable project in itself.
Photojournalism, Wikinews style: A man looking at his cellphone during a festival. One of ten photographs in an article with just two short paragraphs of text.
Wikinews includes some shockingly bad content, such as San Fermín de los Navarros church in Madrid celebrates patron day, a seven-sentence article followed by a few poorly-composed snapshots that show little more than people dressed in white and red, mainly facing away from the camera, and fail to illustrate anything about the festival other than that (see example, right). In the meantime, important news stories aren't covered.
And that's the fundamental problem of Wikinews: it's not a good newssite, regularly missing out important stories that affect large parts of the world, but including events of very localised importance. For comparison, have a look at Portal:Current events, a fairly obscure little Wikipedia-based side-project, which actually does a really good job at noting current events. Up until this week, they included Wikinews, interleaved between their own coverage; however Wikinews updated so rarely, and missed out so many of the main stories, that they have now removed Wikinews from their portal, stating that "[i]n the few articles that appear in a timely manner, except for occasional interviews of debatable interest, no substantial information is provided above Wikipedia coverage or what is found in primary sources. It has been given its chance, more than any other sister project, but ultimately the same reasoning behind the external links guideline applies, and on the merits there is no justification for automatically linking to Wikinews." And they're right. They do a far better job covering the news at that portal than on a project that has been given every possible chance to grow and flourish.
This is Wikinews' fundamental problem: it can neither do a good job providing a summary of world news, nor does it have any special focus that it does well. It's a collection of random articles, with only the occasional, passing resemblance to important current events.
And if Wikinews cannot even come close to fulfilling its core mission, it's not a viable project.
- ^ There were 24 days with no news in May and June, out of 61.
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