Wikinews:Water cooler/policy/archives/2017/November

bottleneck and vision

As suggested in Wikiversity:Everyone's favorite news site and elsewhere, I believe that Wikimedia foundation projects can grow to play a major role in reducing political corruption and the Balkanization of the international body politic and increasing the prospects for peace and rapid, more stable and more broadly shared and sustainable economic growth.

In Wikinews a primary bottleneck is the number of qualified reviewers.

This is manifested in the difficulty of authors (speaking from personal experience) to get timely answers to questions about why an article wast not considered "ready".

I believe that with a better structure, Wikinews could attract thousands, maybe millions, of volunteer reviewers that could attract volunteers all over the world to write from a neutral point of view with appropriate documentation. To handle the volume of material that people all over the world want to write, we'd need "local editions" and "back pages", probably approved by “local” and “associate reviewers”. Such "associate reviewers" could be empowered to recommend particularly well written articles of broad interest to the "full reviewers" and "administrators" for consideration for publication on the "front page" that currently publishes less than one article per day.

I've said repeatedly, e.g., on "Wikiversity:Everyone's favorite news site", that everyone who tries to post something on Wikinews should get a timely response and help with posting something somewhere about that. If the person is willing to produce something written from a neutral point of view with reasonable documentation, that should be enough for publication on "back pages" or some "local edition".

Otherwise, they should be referred to to-be-developed projects like "Wikisocial" or "Wikiblog", that would include efforts to match people with contrary perspectives to work through their differences with a rule that requires treating others with respect, which means blocking obvious profanity and castigating personal attacks, etc.

In particular, for "local / back pages", no screen for general interest should be applied. My favorite example is a boring article about a city council meeting, whose very publication would still be very useful in putting public officials on notice that someone is watching them. An example of the need for this is the w:City of Bell scandal: Bell, CA, USA, is a city of roughly 35,000 in Los Angeles County. In 2010 they made national news, because the City Manager was the most highly paid public servant in the US as far as anyone knew, with total compensation over $1 million per year, more than double that of the President of the US. Property taxes were outrageous, and the city was near bankruptcy. The local newspaper died around 1999, and the City Manger effectively said, “Wow: The watchdog is dead. Let's have a party!”

Many local chapters of the w:League of Women Voters have “observer corps”, who attend public meetings of local governmental bodies and write summaries of their observations for their regular newsletters.

Wikinews could provide a platform for more extensive and more available reports of this nature.

Some reports like this may attract few readers -- if any. However, they could still be valuable, because they reduce the motivation for self serving actions of public officials.

Large numbers of volunteers are coming to Wikinews, eager to contribute. In the 163 days between 2017-04-28 and 2017-10-08, my copy of the counts at indicates that Wikinews received 8,652 submissions, averaging 53 per day, and published 142 articles, less than one per day.

I think it's fairly safe to assume that those 8,652 submissions were submitted by something close to 8,652 different people. To the extent that this is accurate, it means that on the average day during that period, 52 new people tried to offer an article to Wikinews and were pushed away.

I believe this represents a huge opportunity: With the right structure / rules for recruiting and qualifying reviewers and contributors, Wikinews could become bigger than Wikipedia -- and in so doing could make a major contribution to reducing political corruption and violent conflict while also increasing the rate of improvement in the political economy generating faster, more stable and more broadly shared economic growth.

If Wikinews reviewers and admins can find a way develop rules and structure that retain and teach more of these potential contributors about writing from a neutral point of view with adequate documentation, it could make major contributions to improving the quality of public debate on all kinds of issues:

  • Reducing political corruption.
  • Making it harder for xenophobes to succeed with divide and conquer rhetoric that often stampedes too many groups into violent conflict over misunderstandings that Wikinews could help bridge.

For more on this, see the Wikiversity articles on v:Everyone's favorite news site, v:Net neutrality and 'Restoring Internet freedom', and v:Winning the War on Terror.

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by DavidMCEddy (talkcontribs) 16:09, 9 October 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I mean no personal offense to you, but this stuff is not based on understanding of Wikinews. It really looks to me like you have an answer you want, and are inventing stuff to support it. (That's an extremely common pattern in the world today, in its radical form I've been known to call it "opinion-based mindset", and I see combatting it as a key value of Wikinews.) Eventually you get to the point of invoking statistics to support what you're saying (not just lies or damned lies, but statistics :-) ). Statistics are useless unless preceded by deep insight into the system being studied. The point at which the above first runs off the rails is the second paragraph (the first seems too vague to object to), when it says "In Wikinews a primary bottleneck is the number of qualified reviewers." You'd have to be intimately familiar with an immense amount of subtle project dynamics to qualify to make calls about primary bottlenecks and such, and truthfully you don't know the project nearly that well. Here's a tip: that bottleneck isn't primary. It's not the root of the problem. I strongly suspect you're missing what the purpose of the whole project workflow is — what the nature of our output is — and without that one cannot make meaningful judgements about how well it works, let alone what is needed to make it work better. --Pi zero (talk) 16:47, 9 October 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I didn't read David M's big ol' post (I might some day but not right now) but I did read yours, Pi zero. I'm curious: If you don't think that qualified reviewers are the bottleneck, or "limiting reagent," as I called it when you and I discussed it, then what do you think the root of the problem really is? I am asking because your comments on matters like this tend to be interesting. Darkfrog24 (talk) 04:12, 20 October 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Okay, I read David M's post. I feel that using project Wiki for political purposes, even political purposes that seem good and noble and right to you—it seems that you want to rescue journalism and use it to keep the government honest—is highly likely to backfire. Something similar is happening on Wikipedia. The world might need a watchdog group of the kind you describe, but it also needs a place that can be trusted to compile, organize, and summarize the whirlwind of information available to people today and do so in a politically neutral way. That's where Project Wiki is supposed to be and sometimes it manages to do it. Darkfrog24 (talk) 04:15, 20 October 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Pi zero:, @Acagastya:, @Darkfrog24:: I will here try to summarize my concern and vision more succinctly: The US “Government Organization Summary Report: 2012” reported “90,106 state and local governments ... in existence on June 30, 2012.” If we scale that up to the world population of roughly 7.6 billion, that's roughly 2.2 million different political jurisdictions in the world. Maybe it's 200,000 or 20 million.
Many of these could have their own edition of Wikinews -- and possibly multiple editions, one for each ethnic, cultural and linguistic group, religious congregation, etc., of a certain modest size within each jurisdiction.
New media and old are currently being managed to increase Balkanization (called “market segmentation” in business jargon) to benefit elites.
How can Wikinews be restructured so it can grow to support millions of local editions, each managed to improve fact checking and build bridges rather than walls?
DavidMCEddy (talk) 12:46, 29 October 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Right now we just summarize the news for people. Without commenting on whether any part of Project Wiki should take part in sweeping social change, how do you see something like what you've planned interfacing with our existing mechanism? Darkfrog24 (talk) 22:05, 29 October 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Just to note; "we just summarize the news" is not really true. On one hand, synthesis is not just summary; amongst other things, we strive to make our synthesis more neutral than the sources (the exact opposite of adding commentary). On... well, an other hand, synthesis is not all we do, although it often feels like it since synthesis is our most common type of article. --Pi zero (talk) 16:33, 1 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I do not have all the answers, but each article could be coded for "front page" if it met your standards for primary distribution, and would be "back page" material if it seemed to be written from a neutral point of view with adequate documentation and showed appropriate respect for others but may not have met your other criteria.
Each "back page" article could be further geocoded and offered to users who request "back page" Wikinews based in part on the goelocation that interests them.
A system like this would obviously require some new software. However, it could probably be built on top of something like Google Earth fairly easily. DavidMCEddy (talk) 23:04, 29 October 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

it is not a neutral approach. Nobody has the right to determine which event happening in what part of the country is more important than others.
acagastya PING ME! 05:49, 1 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@Acagastya: I would not go that far. A cute picture may become a Facebook post but will rarely make the front page of the New York Times.
Over 50 times as many articles are submitted to Wikinews as are published. Why are the other 49+ not published?
Each of those 49+ failed to meet at least one of Wikinews' rules. But why was the problem not corrected?
I cannot answer that question for everyone, but I can answer it for myself: If I remember correctly, I've had two articles published and two rejected. The two rejected were because I did not understand the feedback I got. In the first case, I failed to see and understand some of the feedback I got until the article was stale and no longer news. In the second case, I asked for clarification -- repeatedly -- and never got it.
I believe that most people can be trained to write from a neutral point of view, documenting their sources, and treating others with respect -- even when they think the others don't deserve respect. Many people make extreme statements. However, many of those would be willing to listen to alternative perspectives. There are a few vociferous Internet trolls that need to be ignored, but I think those are a tiny percent of humanity.
Do you know any research on the percent of people who will NOT listen to alternative perspectives? The best research I know on this is Thining, Fast and Slow, and that does not give a direct answer to this question. In my own experience, I've seen people who I thought were ideologues become more reasonable over time. DavidMCEddy (talk) 14:45, 1 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The things going on this project are very dynamic and every case will be different from the other, @DavidMCEddy:. Let's say for example, it is possible that while you were waiting for explanation, a reviewer thought it would be better to attend some other articles in the review queue, else both the article would lose freshness. It is possible that some articles were never completed on time -- I created some articles but I never got time to write about it. Last month, I tried to help other's articles, which would not have met all five requirements (and all five have to meet. If the article fails in even one, and if it is published, it beats the ideology, philosophy and goal of Wikinews) otherwise. So, if an article manages 3/5 or even 4/5, it is not acceptable. We aren't lowering our standards. Less number of articles is okay. Poor quality articles is not. One of the reasons I am on Wikinews is because I do not like the other news orgs who publish poor quality clickbaits, opinionated, biased, inaccurate, partially true articles.
acagastya PING ME! 16:07, 1 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Acagastya: Can we make a distinction between articles that are factual and appropriately nuanced (not opinionated, biased, inaccurate, only partially true -- or at least inadequately documented) but may not meet other criteria, e.g., problems with the lede, clarity, concision, etc.?
One simple example: I'm somewhat involved with a local chapter of the League of Women Voters. They have an "observer corps" of people who attend meetings of local governmental bodies and write notes. For an example see from the bottom of p. 4 to p. 7 of The Voter newsletter of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, KS, USA.
This section includes seven short articles by nine different people. I did not write anything for this edition, but I have written for them in the past. My reports have been edited to maybe a quarter of what I submitted. I think articles like that could be posted first to Wikinews and later summarized in this newsletter. However, before I suggest that to them, I think I'd want to see the outright rejection rate well under 50 percent of submissions -- or serious documentation of why it's not. DavidMCEddy (talk) 16:44, 1 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@DavidMCEddy: There were some things I was thinking, this morning, I should say to you in this thread, that I felt were going to come out rather harsh but needed to be said. Then I looked earlier in the thread and discovered I'd already said them, probably more eloquently than I would have tried to do now. Your suggestions go consistently badly astray because you don't understand Wikinews (e.g., our workflow, or our neutrality). You're trying to start with assertions about what we should be doing, and then we're presumably supposed to either agree with you or try to fill in your knowledge one point at a time (not practical), instead of you starting by assuming you know nothing about the project, putting in time and effort to learn hands-on from scratch, and then later on working from a position of knowledge to think about improvements. --Pi zero (talk) 17:25, 1 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Pi zero: I see two issues here: (a) the need and (b) how to respond to that need. If I devoted full time to Wikinews for several years, I might never learn enough of what and how you do things to be able to suggest changes that you thought were implementable.
Regarding the need, the Hewlett Foundation published a report recently on ANALYSIS OF PHILANTHROPIC OPPORTUNITIES TO MITIGATE THE DISINFORMATION/ PROPAGANDA PROBLEM: This and other sources note that Google and Facebook are making money from "increasing polarization and tribalism, thereby weakening our democratic systems." (p. 4) This document summarizes interviewers with leading experts on this issue, one of whom said, "I think [Google and Facebook] are willing to make choices to deal with this, but it needs to be an external party that holds them accountable." (p. 18) I'd like to work on two initiatives in this regard:
  1. I think the Wikimedia Foundation is ideally placed to lead experiments in developing alternative social media running free open source software (FOSS) to help build bridges rather than walls and encourage companies like Facebook and Google to use their software or modify it in any way to fit their purpose. The Wikimedia Foundation could likely be able to fund experiments like this via grants from sources like the Hewlett Foundation. I'm not well known in the Wikimedia Foundation, but I attended at least one event in their headquarters in San Francisco a few years ago in addition to m:Wikimania 2017, and I might be able to facilitate the production of a successful grant application to get funding for this.
  2. I currently live in the Greater Kansas City area. I've worked some with the Observer Corps of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, KS; this county is part of Greater Kansas City. Last Friday, I had a discussion with one of the leaders in that group about what it might take to produce, e.g., an edition of Wikinews for Johnson County, KS, based largely on volunteer labor. She expressed concerns that reminded me of some of Pi zero's comments about the difficulties of getting untrained volunteers to write from a neutral point of view with adequate documentation. To be successful with something like this, we might need grant money for both software development and to pay professional journalism instructors to coach the volunteers in how to produce adequate reports on what they see. I think there are several charitable foundations like the Democracy Fund, to name only one, that would like to fund something like this -- both the software development and to pay the instructors / editors to manage this thing during an initial development period. If we can produce something that helps increase voter turnout -- and especially if the local economy seems to improve with that -- that success can help us get support to replicate it elsewhere.
I'm not ready to start working on this immediately, but I might be in the next few months. If successful, it could help deal constructively with the tribalism problems mentioned in the "Analysis of Philanthropic opportunities ..." mentioned above.
Thanks for your support of Wikinews.
Comments? DavidMCEddy (talk) 04:05, 13 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@DavidMCEddy: Sorry to be blunt. What I see here is you imagining you know what Wikinews is and what its problems are, and arrogantly talking about how difficult it would be for you to figure out what we're doing wrong and devise a course of action you could convince me was implementable. But you're mistaken from the start — I see no sign that you comprehend what Wikinews is, without which you can't see what we're doing right, and can't devise a proposal for Wikinews that's even sensible; whether it's implementable isn't even a cogent question. It's not beyond possibility you could do great harm through blundering in ignorance, but I don't see how a positive outcome is reachable if you are making zero attempt to learn any of what you need to understand because you're convinced you already know. --Pi zero (talk) 05:26, 13 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@DavidMCEddy: That last post of mine sounded rather harsh to me, and I apologize for the tone. I admit to being concerned about the problem.

It's interesting to me that you heard things from your local LWV that sounded similar to things I've been saying (I've heard a mix of wise and unwise positions from our local LWV up here in central Massachusetts, too). --Pi zero (talk) 12:51, 13 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@DavidMCEddy: Regarding that report from the Hewlett Foundation, it should in principle be possible to go through that report and explicate how Wikinews relates to various aspects of it, like 'democratization' and gatekeepers and whatnot. Bottom line, Wikinews is way ahead of the curve on that stuff. We are well along on the trail of answers to questions that that Hewlett report is just starting to ask, and that the Wikipedian community mindset doesn't admit as questions. One view of the elephant here is that we seek to teach individuals, both by example and hands-on, to assess where information comes from and to build a worldview starting with objective reality. --Pi zero (talk) 15:11, 13 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Pi zero: Thanks. On 2017-10-19 I analyzed all the edits on the 10 articles then featured on en.wikinews. I counted 254 references to Pi zero out of 442 total mentions. That was 57% of the mentions. Acagastya got 30% of the mentions, 70% of those that were not Pi zero. Darkfrog24 got 9%, 67% of those that were neither Pi zero nor Acagastya. (I say "mentions," because I searched the history for the names of the contributors. This gave me a few more than the total number of edits, because that counted both your contributions and the times that your name appeared in the brief summaries.)
I also noticed that Pi zero was the only one of the Wikinews:Administrators whose name appeared in that list.
I'd like to survey the other 19 Administrators with questions something like the following:
  1. To what extent are you concerned about "increasing polarization and tribalism ... weakening our democratic systems", as discussed, e.g., in the Hewlett Foundation report on ANALYSIS OF PHILANTHROPIC OPPORTUNITIES TO MITIGATE THE DISINFORMATION/ PROPAGANDA PROBLEM (esp. p. 4)?
  2. What, if anything, might the Wikimedia Foundation and projects like Wikinews do to help ameliorate this problem and perhaps turn it into an opportunity? (If the level of conflict continues to escalate, governments all around the world will act in ways that may be counterproductive or at best suboptimal. Governments all over the world are already using these problems to justify blocking content they don't like -- and some are using the Internet to find and persecute potential political opponents. The Hewlett Foundation report mentioned above notes that Europeans are considering measures that could negatively impact the future of democracy worldwide. The Hewlett Foundation believes that major philanthropic organizations like theirs might be able to intervene in ways that might turn this problem into an opportunity. I agree, and I think the the Wikimedia Foundation is ideally placed to play a major role in this.)
What do you think? I'm not ready to start this survey right now but soon, perhaps. Thanks, DavidMCEddy (talk) 15:27, 13 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@DavidMCEddy: Three thoughts occur to me, atm.
  • I'm not sure what you think you're getting from those statistics on mentions and edits. I'm doing most of the review atm; but we knew that already. Beware of statistics.
  • A "survey" of en.wn admins... I don't know what you think this would accomplish.
  • It sounds kind of like spamming all the admin accounts. (Well, okay, it does sound like spamming them.)
  • That list is immensely varied in nature. Some of them have the admin bit because they're associated with wikimedia software development. Some of them are pretty inactive, and could (if we chose to pursue it) be de-sysop'd under our privilege expiry policy (the policy doens't require us to remove those privs, it merely empowers us to).
--Pi zero (talk) 20:30, 13 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
(Would you believe... four thoughts?)

Newby comments/suggestions

Hi all,

I'm a newby (2 months) so there's a lot I don't know and a lot of background information I don't have. I saw a Request for Comment (RfC?) on WikiNews at the Wikipedia Village pump (idea lab). The OP asked for suggestions on how to 'revive' WikiNews, for example by giving it more attention on the Wikipedia main page. I and others joined in the discussion. Perhaps my comments/suggestions (for what their worth) are relevant to this page. They would have been better appended to the previous discussion on bottleneck and vision but I try to avoid duplicating the same discussion in different places.

So this is just to let you know of the discussion at the Village pump and to invite you to comment either there or here. I'd be interested in any feedback.

Kind Regards,

Mike Mikemorrell49 (talk) 14:42, 22 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Hi, I think topics which are breaking news should in general be published sooner here. An example of today is Ratko Mladić' conviction to life imprisonment. Yesterday, there was the great news of Mugabe's resignation after 37 years of presidency. Yet nothing about all that can be found here. Instead, all this information goes immediately to Wikipedia (where it cannot be discussed in detail because Wikipedia is not a news site). De Wikischim (talk) 16:26, 22 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'm planning to write up Mugabe's resignation; have been checking Recent changes for someone else doing it first :-) Yngvadottir (talk) 16:39, 22 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Mikemorrell49: (You may have noticed, when you asked infrastructure questions on Wikibooks I answered much more promptly; it's a basic property of Wikinews that we put most of our volunteer effort into day-to-day news production — because on Wikinews there is a deadline — and infrastructure happens much more slowly because of it.)

Note, there is a lot of history between Wikinews and Wikipedia (I'm talking about the English-language projects, mostly). The most glaringly obvious technical difference is that on Wikipedia edits by anyone are instantly published, whereas on Wikinews nothing is published until rigorously vetted by authorized reviewers. Some Wikipedians really hate Wikinews because of that, have made sure Wikipedia would never acknowledge Wikinews as a reliable source, and have blatantly (and sometimes subtly/underhandedly) tried to destroy Wikinews. At the same time, many Wikinewsies are current or former Wikipedians, and most Wikipedians are friendly folks (most of them must be, or, imho, Wikipedia would not be able to function). We've had no end of trouble, though, with Wikipedians who (even if friendly) have various misapprehensions about news, and about Wikinews.

For years, Wikipedia Signpost was a hotbed of anti-Wikinews sentiment, and once upon a time they published a so-called "op-ed" there that basically said Wikinews is worthless crap. We have no current axe to grind with Signpost (though I believe some of the anti-Wikinews faction are still there), nor with the author of the op-ed (with whom, as I recall, we later called truce); but I mention it for its historical significance. We didn't respond on Wikipedia to the op-ed; perhaps we should have, but in my experience we could waste an infinite amount of time trying to sway the Wikipedian community, with no realistic chance of doing so, and meanwhile Wikinews would simply grind to a halt because we'd be pouring our volunteer time into talking to Wikipedians instead of into producing news. Rumor has that an edit summary by an editor during the preparation of the op-ed explicitly mentioned beginning the strangling of Wikinews. Taking advantage of the momentum from that op-ed, the anti-Wikinews faction successfully lobbied to remove the link to Wikinews that used to be at the bottom of ITN on the Wikipedia main page; and, just as one might expect, we did observe some decrease in random visitors from Wikipedia after that. They then went on to nominate for deletion all of the templates for sister links from Wikipedia to Wikinews, on the grounds that Wikinews articles are worthless and it is a disservice to readers to provide links from the magnificent articles of Wikipedia to... well, you get the idea. As I mentioned, though, there are lots of friendly folks on Wikipedia, and the mass-deletion of templates didn't happen.

Now, as for what Wikinews needs to grow. It's well to have some influx of new users, obviously we can't grow without that, but just because we're a volunteer project does not mean that all it takes to grow the project is to go out and advertise for more people to come volunteer effort here. Wikinews has technical constraints that limit its dynamic equation, in fact after studying the situation here closely I concluded that the constants in that dynamic equation need to be tweaked, if its derivative is to be positive (i.e., growth). There was a fork some years ago, of Wikinewsies who wanted to make review easier by, essentially, lowering standards so it wouldn't take as long to review. The "hard news" Wikinewsies, maintaining that high standards are essential, stayed on Wikinews. The fork project failed, imho because if there aren't high standards for getting published then there's no motive to get published either. Anyway, I developed my own ideas about what is needed, technically, to make Wikinews work better, and I've come to believe that all the wikimedian sisters need the tools I'm developing; even Wikipedia needs them. Unfortunately, I've also concluded that the Wikimedia Foundation has baked-in software design priorities that (with all good intentions; we've no shortage of those) do harm to the sisterhood by pushing in a different and incompatible direction from where I see we need to go. So for five years or so I've been developing these tools, at the same time that I've been pouring time into review on Wikinews so the project continues while I'm trying to develop what it needs to make me unnecessary. At least some of what I have in mind is described at User:Pi zero/essays/vision/sisters; atm I'm struggling with a low-level technical problem with the dialog tools that was pointed out to me by someone who has ported them to Spanish Wikinews, and beyond that, I'm starting on the very large task of figuring out high-level strategies for using the low-level tools.

Hopefully, all of that may offer some degree of big-picture perspective on Wikinews's situation. --Pi zero (talk) 20:57, 24 November 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]