The New Yorker on Wikipedia

The New Yorker has a very nice article on Wikipedia, which sums up the site better than I\’ve seen it done, and (as noted by David Robinson) Wikipedia agrees with that assessment. It will be a nice item to add to introductory social computing readings–something the Atlantic Monthly (esp. Charles Mann) has been a good source for in the past, but, despite Gladwell\’s social science-oriented pieces, has been less available in the New Yorker.

I spoke with Schiff for about forty-five minutes last month. And yes, I am shallow enough to have hoped to see my name in the pages of the New Yorker, but I guess I\’m just going to have to write something myself for that to happen :). I think she summarized some of the research Derek and I are doing when she noted (as Wales has) that “Wikipedia remains a lumpy work in progress.” I generally speak to a few journalists each month, and though I would never teach an interviewing class, some of them are really bad at interviewing. And unlike what you might expect, some of the worst interviewers are at the top papers. They can be bad in two ways: technique and knowledge.

On the technique side, I just don\’t get it. I am certainly willing to wait a second while you catch up on typing something out, but if you are making me wait for a minute between each question, I\’m going to tune out. Use a tape recorder! And if you have questions, have them be answerable. I\’ve been told that I am a good interviewee, in part because I have no problem listening to myself talk, but there is nothing worse than answering a question like \”Sooo, what do you think about X?\”–at least if that\’s the only question there.

Some reporters come in with an agenda. I\’ve actually been asked something along the lines of \”Would you say \’Bats enjoy attacking humans,\’\” and then saw a lead that said \”Expert says \”bats enjoy attacking humans.\’\” That, obviously, is taking it too far. But it’s not as much fun if a reporter calls with no angle at all, then there isn\’t really anywhere to go with the conversation. I don\’t mind helping them fish out an angle–I enjoy it–but it needs to be a two-way street.

And then there are folks who are reporting on something–for me it\’s usually social/mobile computing or (sometimes) pornography–and are totally clueless. They\’ve clearly been assigned this topic and haven\’t bothered to do some basic Googling. That\’s fine–that\’s what there are experts for after all. But just like when students come and ask you questions that were already covered in lecture and the book, it can be a little bit frustrating at times.

All this to say that Ms. Schiff was one of the most enlightened interviewers I\’ve talked with, she knew what she wanted to ask, and clearly had a good feel for the complex issues surrounding Wikipedia. It may be that I just caught her late in her research–and obviously she isn\’t under the time demands that most of the newspaper journalists I talk to are–but after talking with her, it does not surprise me in the least that she did such a good job in capturing the dynamics of the issues surrounding Wikipedia.

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  1. Posted 7/28/2006 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Did you see the article about Wikipedia that appeared recently on Popmatters’ site? (Check it out here: It reminded me of one of your earlier postings…

  2. alex
    Posted 7/28/2006 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the heads up. Great article.

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