With fake news continuing to dominate the discussion about the future of the media and role of social networks in spreading it, many in the tech world have tried to come up with ways to fight this new cancer. Various pronouncements have been made by Google, Facebook and Twitter about tweaking their algorithms. But it’s hard to get away from the fact that human beings are probably going to have to be involved somewhere along the line.
Step forward a new project from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Today he launches a crowd-funding campaign for Wikitribune. This will be a “wiki-style” attack on the purveyors of fake news by teaming up professional journalists and community contributors to produce “fact-checked, global news stories”.
What Wales is hoping is that an army of contributors will help individual journalists vet the facts using a variety of sources such as full transcripts, video and audio interviews.
The content will be free and the business model based on monthly subscriptions by communities which commission the journalists. Wales hopes advertising won’t ever be a part of the project in fact.
How the funding will work is that communities of interest will effectively sponsor the professional journalists to go get news in an area they care about. But the journalists will still have to behave independently. Quite what happens if they come up with news their subscribers don’t like isn’t quite clear yet. However, supporters will be able to “advise” on the topics that they want Wikitribune to pursue. So in theory any contentious issues might, hopefully, not be too serious.
The crowd funding campaign launches by pre-selling monthly support packages to fund the first Wikitribune journalists, with the first issue of Wikitribune following once the money is banked and salaries can be offered.
It will launch in English, with other languages coming after, as funds allow.
In a statement Wales said “Wikitribune is news by the people and for the people. This will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop and at all times backed by a community checking and re-checking all facts.”
In an interview with TechCrunch he said: “Past attempts at citizen journalism, did do some things well but other things not so well. So the idea is to try find a balance between community and journalism with the community and journalists working side by side as equals in specific topic areas.”
For example the the bitcoin community could fund Wikitribune journalists to cover bitcoin and the blockchain in a more accurate and considered manner than mainstream journalists. “So there’s a real incentive for people to subscribe,” he said.
While the site is launching as the UK general election campaign begins, Wales said the idea came after he saw what had happened in the US and how fake news had helped Donald Trump into power.