Fake news. It’s more than a problem. It has become a pandemic. A disease that has spread worldwide with no apparent end in sight. But there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has announced that he will start a new website called Wikitribune.
Wikitribune will consist of paid journalists that will work with volunteer journalists to build a website filled with factual, real, and fact-checked news. The site will work to counter all of the fake news that is currently being spread throughout the Internet. Wales has a plan but will it work?
The Wikitribune Setup
Wales plans to fund the new website from crowdfunding donations, which will then be used to pay for a team of ten professional journalists. The public will be able to subscribe to the site for a fee of $15 per month. This fee will also be used to fund the online paper, and subscribers will be able to suggest topics for volunteer writers to research.
So what kinds of topics will Wikitribune cover? Basic news topics that focus on the US and the UK, mostly. Wales previously worked at The Guardian, but he had to leave that position when he started Wikitribune due to a conflict of interest. The topics will likely vary and cover news that is current and relevant, but all topics and articles will be heavily fact-checked.
Where News Went Wrong
Internet users expect news to be free. Those newspapers that decided to publish online content and charge a membership fee did not retain many readers when those fees were applied. Most papers and other sites that publish news stories do so for free, which means that those publications have to make money elsewhere. That elsewhere is through advertising.
Unfortunately, advertisers will only spend money if users are drawn to a site. This is where the term ‘clickbait’ came from. Once reliable news outlets began to create click bait articles solely to attract as many users as possible, in order to get those advertising dollars.
Eventually, news outlets began to pay writers less, stopped fact-checking articles, and felt pressure to create as many catchy articles as possible to draw in users. It worked. Advertisers got their users, sites got advertising dollars, and readers (mostly through social networks) happily clicked on articles and shared articles that were not fact based.
Stuck in the Mire
People are beginning to become more conscious of what is and aren’t real news. People are starting to question articles that look like click bait. Some are starting to research topics to find the real truth. Sites like Snopes.com have been trying to combat fake stories for a long time now.
Wikitribune is a valiant effort – and one that’s also good for writers – but will it work? Will people pay a monthly subscription fee in order to read real news? Will journalists that write fact-based articles rise again? Will newspapers begin to print the news again? Or will it all fail miserably?
Time will tell. This writer is hoping that Wikitribune gains wings quickly.