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Wikipedia co-founder to launch Wikitribune online newspaper
May 11, 2017, 5:23 pm

Fake news has been hot news ever since the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election. The co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, is now aiming to counter this fake news by launching a new online publication project called Wikitribune.

The project will bring together professional journalists and a community of interested readers to produce and publish news stories. The site will be financed by a crowd-funding campaign that launched last week and will focus on a range of issues — from politics to specialists science and technology subjects — based on user recommendations.

The core value of the site will be its dedication to facts, says Mr. Wales. Readers will be able to easily see the sources for each published story, and journalists will share materials like the transcripts and audio of interviews. “Wikitribune is news by the people and for the people,” he said.

“The quality of media has declined in many areas — not all areas — and there’s a real desire by the public for something more serious and more reliable,” he added.

Wikitribune will initially hire 10 professional journalists who will work alongside members of the community and help fact-check and copyedit articles. Any member of the public will be able to suggest edits to a story, but changes will have to be approved by a staff member or trusted volunteer before going live.

Saying that the battle for attention online has been detrimental to the quality of the news, Mr. Wales added that Wikitribune will be ad-free and will not rely on “clicks to appease advertisers. There will also be no pay-wall for the proposed site meaning that anyone would be able to freely download the news.

However, Wikitribune readers who take out monthly subscriptions of around $15, will in return be able to suggest topics for coverage by the site. These could be specialist subjects, like Bitcoin, or local news coverage, if enough money can be raised to find a reporter in a specific area. But this system will not affect the neutrality of the site, as all published articles will be subject to the same fact-checking and transparency standards.

The co-founder of Wikipedia says he is confident that if the quality is good enough, Wikitribune will not have to optimize for social media or other funding methods. “One thing that’s still true is that word of mouth is very powerful,” he says. “People do talk about things. Wikipedia has never paid a penny for advertising, but yet remains one of the most popular things in the world.”

While the aim behind Wikitribune is certainly noble, some journalism experts have questioned the impact such a site could have on the global news community. “There are a variety of people who — if it does this right — will view it as a trusted platform," Joshua Benton, director of Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab said. “There's certainly a model for non-profit news that can be successful [...] but I have a hard time seeing this scale up into becoming a massive news organization.”

But Mr. Wales says this is just the beginning, and that the first step is simply to attract funding and hire the journalists. English news will be the first to be covered, but he imagines the site will expand quickly into other languages, and sees German as a good second step. Mainly, though, he wants to attract “supporters who believe in good journalism.” He adds that he would like to put out something thoughtful and serious that people read and they think, “Hey, that really moves the needle for me.”

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