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Is Wikipedia a Reliable Source? Part I

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 11:42 PM

A survey of what fellow editors think about it.

By William Dunkerley

Some people swear by Wikipedia. Others swear at it. What about editors?

We did a quick survey to find out generally what editors think. We also asked what their editorial policies and practices are with regard to Wikipedia. Do they cite it as a source? Do they allow quotes from it?

Some editors come down solidly for Wikipedia, while others are firmly against using it. But most editors fall somewhere in between.

Use It

--Rob Fixmer, editor, Travel Weekly: "I use Wikipedia at least daily to check facts, spellings, etc. And I have no qualms about attributing facts to it. Over the years, I've come to trust it and to believe that the biggest difference between Wikipedia and other great encyclopedias is that you can correct Wikipedia when it's wrong, which increases my trust of it enormously."

--Ava Caridad, editorial director, Spray Technology: "We use Wikipedia mostly to verify places and place names and reference acronyms. We use it for anything that is regarded as 'common knowledge,' a fact-finder, but not for deep research." Caridad gives Wikipedia top marks for convenience, but regards it slightly less for accuracy and comprehensiveness. She allows authors to quote from Wikipedia and use it as a source.

--Skip Ogden at iBest.net: "I am impressed with Wikipedia. I've found it to be quite accurate and up to date. I'd rate it with a solid A.


--Chris Glenn, editor-in-chief, Review of Ophthalmology: "We do not use it at all in our work."

--Angela Hartley, managing editor, Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses: "We would not allow a Wiki citation in one of our articles, nor would I cite it myself."

It Depends...

--Brian Whipkay, editor, Daily American: "We use it for background, but not a quotable source. We try to confirm what's there through other avenues." He adds, "The problem with Wikipedia is that you don't know if people are being accurate when they update a listing."

--Arif Durrani, editor, Media Week, and media editor at Campaign Magazine: "It's a great starting point for research, but would never serve as a source in itself. Anything picked up would have to be substantiated by reputable sources elsewhere to be included in news or features. Nine times out of ten, this is possible. Very rarely does Wikipedia host information that cannot be found elsewhere. However, its ability to pool information altogether in one easy package, coupled with great SEO, make it a fantastic addition to the mix." Would he cite or quote traditional encyclopedias such as Americana or Britannica? "Yes, as they are closed sources that can't be changed by users."

--Andrew Kaplan, managing editor, Beverage World: "I would not want my authors to quote from Wikipedia ever in their stories. I personally only use Wikipedia as a jumping off point and always confirm with other sources anything I read there. Perhaps it's an unjustified bias since, being in my mid-40s, most of my journalism career was pre-Wikipedia. But I have a hard time trusting as fact anything for a story I am researching unless I get it from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and not an intermediary on the Internet. I would give it an A as a convenience, and an A- in terms of comprehensiveness (depending widely on the topic). As for accuracy, I don't check up on it enough to be able to give it an accurate grade.

--Carolyn Ulrich, editor, Chicagoland Gardening: "I use Wikipedia primarily for a quick check on information but don't consider it entirely reliable. I might allow a passing reference to information from Wikipedia in an article, but it would have to be identified as such. ('Wikipedia says there are 25 species of GENUS X.') I edit a gardening magazine, so my writers and I don't usually find much need for it."

Wikipedia vs. Blogs

--Ann Mahoney, director, ICMA publications: "Most problematic for us of late has been authors using all or some of their own or other people's blog content, but never mentioning that it's been lifted from their own or someone else's blog. (And by 'their own' I mean a blog they have written, but the actual platform for the blog might belong to someone else.) My fear is that our authors (including our academic authors) may be doing a lot of plagiarizing and we don't even know it. It amazes me that so many authors, regardless of age, seem to have no compunction about taking material from the Web as if it belonged to them."

Is Wikipedia Reliable or Not?

In a future issue we'll further analyze Wikipedia from a reliability standpoint, and hope to present tips on how to judge content that interests you.

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