User:Brian McNeil/Wikinews workflow

Existing workflow


The existing workflow on a Wikinews article is very simple, and has four main stages - not all of which need to be gone through. There are some issues with this, and it has been reported that the level, or depth, of checking at specific stages has failed to catch factual inaccuracies.

Prepared is an optional stage for an article, and comes prior to an event happening. The most obvious example of this is a prepared obituary. Other examples might be the publication of a major government report, or the result of a high-profile court case. In all three situations background research can be done and details which flesh out the article put together.

It may be the case that interviews and investigative pieces should sit in this stage while, for interviews, we solicit questions from the community, and for investigative pieces we identify the main actors and attempt to get feedback from them.

The vast majority of articles start in this state. At this point contributors are gathering sources and reading them, and identifying the salient points to highlight in the Wikinews report. In many cases this may involve a single contributor making significant changes and a warning template such as {{editing}} has to be added to avoid edit conflicts.

Key to this is being conscious of the fact that in breaking news there is often a "fog of war" aspect to information being released. For a terrorist bombing you could have AP reporting ten dead and Reuters reporting twelve or more. This may be the result of Reuters having reported later and knowing how many of the critically injured died in hospital. Here there is a judgement call to make. It may be more honest to report, "According to the Associated Press ten died in the attack, Reuters report on the incident cites a figure of twelve", than to assume one is right and the other is wrong. Circumstances like this are where getting a third or more sources is well-advised - it may resolve the confusion.

When a contributor believes an article is ready for publication, the develop tag should be replaced with ready. This is an invitation to review the article and assess if it meets project standards. This is also the stage where we are letting our readers down by not investing enough effort.

The simplest task to carry out when an article is at this stage is to read it, correct spelling and grammar mistakes, and carry out a general copyedit if it has issues such an over-abundance of one sentence paragraphs, excess passive voice, or run-on sentences.

What is frequently missed here is fact-checking. This is obviously due to the pressure to publish, but ideally all sources should be read and assertions made in the article checked to see they agree with what the sources state. This is a great deal more time-consuming than checking the article for readability, but is a duty to our audience to make a best-effort attempt to be accurate.

This is the stage at which an article becomes more visible and - currently - will show up on the front page. The article should be as close to complete as possible, but this is not always practical. In many circumstances additional details will emerge in the following 24 hours that should be included in the article. The {{breaking}} template exists for cases where this is particularly obvious. However, common sense should apply to this and the template should never be used on items such as obituaries. Historically there has been over-use of this template which appears to be certain contributors expressing a desire to dramatise the publication of a story which will see no new significant developments.

As suggested in the above paragraph, significant changes to a published article should be restricted to the 24 hours after publication. In some exceptional circumstances this may be extended out to 36 hours, but realistically this should only apply on major world news events such as a huge natural disaster, or something like the terrorist attacks on the London Underground system. With stories appearing in the RSS feed, many readers will not repeatedly go back to an article to check for updates. Developments outwith this 36-hour period should result in new articles being started which update on the current situation - a lifting of the "fog of war", and an opportunity to source comments from analysts who have now had time to review the event(s) being reported on.

In many cases, the fact that an article remains editable beyond the end of this 36 hour period can cause issues. Unregistered users, and those unfamiliar with site policies and rules will not realise that no substantial content changes should be made. With high-profile stories it may be advisable for administrators to semi-protect the article to minimise this problem.

Archived is not so much a stage in an article's development, but a moving of it to its final resting place in the site's news archive. WN:ARCHIVE outlines in some detail what steps should be taken prior to adding the tag/template to the article. Key to this - and often missed - is reviewing all edits that took place more than 24 hours after the article was published. Substantial post-publication changes must be removed, sources dated after the publication of the article must be removed, and a final copyedit is generally required. Minor details in that copyedit include adding appropriate Wikilinks to sister projects, and changing some links to sister projects to local links - for example, many inexperienced contributors will assume that "United States" should link to the article on Wikipedia. Wikinews actually has a page United States which redirects to our portal on the country. That should always be the first usage's wikilink. A second use could link to the Wikipedia article, but it is just as easy to leave readers to go to the portal and from there to the Wikipedia page.

Changes to improve quality


As noted in some of the above sections, there are concerns that the quality and accuracy of Wikinews output is not what it could be. The article stage {{ready}} is too frequently treated as something relatively minor when there is actually a significant amount of work needs to go into progressing from there to {{publish}}. Alternatively, interim stages need to be introduced between {{develop}} and {{ready}}. The advantages of such extra stages would be to put more emphasis on certain processes being applied, and offering a more well-defined structure that might attract other contributors - either from other Wiki projects, or from professional journalism schools.

The proposal is to have the existing flow altered to {{develop}} -> {{factcheck}} -> {{copyedit}} -> {{ready}}. This introduces two extra steps in the workflow which a clear set of tasks and responsibilities can be outlined for.

To carry out the project's duties to its readers it is critical that an independent editor has read all supplied sources and verified that the article content matches with them. Currently this does not appear to being done within the {{ready}} stage.

Such a new stage would require that whoever carried out this fact-checking task noted this on the talk page. This allows other contributors to see who has performed the task, and is additional transparency for readers.

There are obvious mistakes that a contributor to an article can make during the development stage that their personal review may overlook. For example, it would be trivial when using the numeric keypad to insert an 8 where a 5 was intended, and the way the human brain works you may never notice you have made such a mistake. An independent review greatly increases the chances of catching such accidental errors.

Worst-case is deliberate deception. A contributor with a strong political bias may deliberately misreport due to their personal agenda. Generally this is caught because the article ends up not conforming to the Neutral Point Of View policy, but this is not always the case and it may not be immediately apparent unless you force yourself to read the sources cited.

From fact-checking, you move on to copyediting. It is natural that part of this stage in the workflow may be carried out during fact checking (eg poorly worded statement of fact that is readily misinterpreted), but there are wider issues of consistency and compliance with the project's style guide.

Many active contributors really enter in to the spirit of Wikinews and are well aware of the pace at which story development must run. This means they may overlook spelling errors, they may type the same word twice in a row, they may make over-use of passive voice, or - in some cases - they may not be a native English speaker. This latter point can lead to articles that contain run-on sentences and inappropriate punctuation.

The aim of copyediting is to remove these issues and make the article easily read.

{{ready}} (new workflow)


With two of the currently neglected points moved out of the existing {{ready}} stage, this becomes more an issue of getting a second opinion on the readiness of the article to appear on the front page.

  • Does it answer "Who, what, where, why, and how"?
  • Are the salient points likely to draw in a reader in the opening paragraph?
  • Can images or infoboxes be added? (Where none already present)
  • Are images in use in compliance with the fair use policy?
  • Are images from Commons clearly licensed?

Considerations for Original Reporting


The percentage of Wikinews articles which are partially or wholly made up of original reporting has increased significantly over the last two years.

Please discuss on the talk page how you see the outlined workflow operating with this.

See also