Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, is hoping to come to the rescue of modern quality journalism with his new Wikitribune service. Focusing on “factual and neutral” articles, the planned new site will rely on donations, with neither advertising nor paywalls used to sustain it. That money will help pay for professional journalists, whose efforts will be supplemented by volunteer contributors, providing, Wales hopes, a secure basis for effective and investigative journalism.One risk with the initiative is the plan for donors and contributors to be encouraged by the ability to influence what gets written. The idea of editorial decisions being driven by financial considerations is usually controversial, and it may well be again for Wikitribune. Especially as the interests of volunteers is well established as being both a strength and a major weakness of Wikipedia. It wouldn’t exist without them, yet its content is also massively skewed by contributors being very far from a good cross-section of the population. The result? Quite a bit of detail on US baseball, yet sustained problems with covering the achievements of women, for example.
Another risk is that if the site does get going, the widespread availability of quality, advert-free news could not only cause welcome damage to the business model that sustains all sorts of dodgy low-grade ‘news’ site but it could also eat into mainstream news sources already struggling to find a viable financial model.
Squeezed by the BBC on one side and Wiktribune on the other, things could be about to get even tougher for many UK news outlets.