When people want a go-to example of an unreliable source, Wikipedia is near the top of the list. It’s ironic since a lot of what’s on Wikipedia is heavily annotated and well researched. Also, incorrect information can be challenged and changed when better information is available. Sure, it’s not usable for academic research, but it should work for winning an argument with your friends over who starred in what movie.
And, of course, even Wikipedia has standards. The site’s developers recently barred any citations from the British tabloid, The Daily Mail, after editors determined the publication is, in their words, “generally unreliable.”
The editorial team passed down the verdict after a yearlong argument among many of Wikipedia’s key volunteer editors about the level of trustworthiness The Daily Mail provided in its content and coverage. Various editors cited “poor fact checking, sensationalism, and flat-out fabrication…” among the reasons for blacklisting the publication from the world’s biggest online encyclopedia.
Of course, Wikipedia is not using the term “blacklisted,” instead opting to describe sourcing The Daily Mail as “generally prohibited” for various listings, especially when a better or different source is available.
As part of the operation, volunteer editors were encouraged to scour the site for other Daily Mail citations and to do their best to remove and replace those citations as soon as possible.
This is an unusual move for Wikipedia and a move that some editors strongly opposed. They cited several examples where The Daily Mail could be considered reliable and said this tactic was essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These editors are arguing that this is sending a unilateral message implying that Wikipedia should be an arbiter of legitimacy in the media world. Instead, they suggest taking each incident as a single entry to be determined on an individual basis.
Part of the reluctance stems from the near universal ubiquity of The Daily Mail. It’s one of the most successful tabloids in Britain, with a website that publishes more than 1,600 stories each and every day. That level of publishing means that a lot will be suspect, but there’s bound to be some legitimate and reliable content on there … and it’s a treasure trove of breadcrumbs to find stories worth learning more about.
All of this translates to inherent worth for some editors and Wikipedia users. Meanwhile, others are stuck on the idea that The Daily Mail is not news and should not be treated as such. It’s information, but not vetted and traditionally up to journalistic standards for accuracy. Since some argue it’s a starting point, and others argue it should be “just the story” this debate is not likely to end anytime soon. But, for the time being, the decision has been passed down regardless of the ongoing debate.