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Who said what to whom?

May 8, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s a beautiful quote, almost too good to be true:

One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.

According to The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC, along with many others in America, Australia and India, these words of wisdom were uttered by the composer Maurice Jarre, and later quoted extensively when the renowned composer died at the end of March.

Imagine the language in many of those newsrooms yesterday when The Irish Times reported that they were made up, and inserted into Jarre’s Wikipedia entry by a student at University College, Dublin. 

This story has, of course, been picked up by all the other papers, and used as an example of how the new interwebs can’t be trusted because things like Wikipedia can be edited by anyone.

However, from where I’m sitting, there are a number of points of order here:

1. This is an old story – everybody knows Wikipedia is a clusterf**k of competing egos and vested interests, a great idea marred by personal prejudice, technology abusepolitics and greed. The German version of Wikipedia manages to peer-review edits to ensure there is editorial integrity, why the English version can’t do the same is beyond me, especially since it’s supported by one of Wikipedia’s co-founders, Jimmy Wales.*

2. All the huffing and puffing of the Old Media can’t change the simple fact that their overpaid, lazy hacks just cut and paste quotes from Wikipedia into their own pieces, rather than doing some proper research, something we readers and advertisers pay for. The quote was not sourced, so why weren’t the alarm bells ringing? How many of these useless scribblers will be fired? None.

3. If this student was a professional writer who made up quotes for his pieces, he would face disciplinary action. He claims he did this as a “social experiment”, that he was concerned about the “ethical implications” of what he was doing and that he was “shocked by the result of his experiment”. OK, so the sound of hand-wringing is almost deafening, but what’s the betting that he just happens to fail to disclose his fraud to every potential employer he is interviewed by?

4. Further reading of the Irish Times article reveals:

The quote had no referenced sources and was therefore taken down by moderators of Wikipedia within minutes. However, Fitzgerald put it back a few more times until it was finally left up on the site for more than 24 hours.

So initially the Wiki system worked – shouldn’t that have been result enough for Fitzgerald’s experiment? Obviously not, so one has to view his high and mighty views on ethics in a new light.

5. What is Wikipedia for? While Jimmy Wales has called for approval of English entries by “trusted editors”, he won’t actually impose any changes because he see Wikipedia as some form of news source, a notion of supreme idiocy which is supported by the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Sue Gardner who once said it was “just another mainstream news medium” and that:

 I know that more or less the same mistakes can be found in the New York Times

So is Wikipedia the encylopedia it says it is, or is it a news agency? Maybe Ms Gardner should trying visiting Planet Earth occasionally – she may discover that the NYT does not allow all and sundry to edit their pages and re-write stories to suit themselves, and that the only fake quotes that appear there are either made up by their own journalists, or lifted from Wikipedia.

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