The co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, is launching a new online publication that aims to combat fake news. The project is called Wikitribune, and will bring together professional journalists and a community of interested readers to produce and publish news stories. The site will be financed by a crowdfunding campaign (that launches today) and will focus on a range of issues — from US politics to specialists science and technology subjects.
The site’s core mantra will be a dedication to facts, says Wales. Readers will be able to easily see the sources for each published story, and journalists will share materials like the transcripts and audio of interviews. “Wikitribune is news by the people and for the people,” said Wales.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time,” Wales told The Verge. “But things came to a head for me post-Brexit and post-Donald Trump. There’s a feeling things have gone wrong. The quality of media has declined in many areas — not all areas — and there’s a real desire by the public for something more serious and more reliable.”
Wales is initially looking to hire 10 professional journalists for the Wikitribune, and these individuals will work alongside members of the community who will help fact-check and copy-edit articles. Any member of the public will be able to suggest edits to a story, but changes will have to be approved by a staff member or trusted volunteer before going live.
The site will be ad-free, meaning “no one’s relying on clicks to appease advertisers” and there will be no paywall limiting access. Wales says the battle for attention online has been detrimental to the quality of the news, but praises publications like The New York Times and The Guardian that are increasingly relying on paying subscribers. He also says The Intercept — funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar — is “super interesting,” but adds that “philosophically I think there’s a problem if our model for journalism is to have wealthy billionaires funding side projects.”
Wikitribune readers will be able take out monthly subscriptions of around $15, and in return will have influence over the site’s coverage; getting to suggest topics they want its reporters to write about. These could be specialist subjects, like Bitcoin; or local news coverage, if enough money can be raised to find a reporter in a specific area. Wales says this system won’t affect the neutrality of the site, as all published articles will be subject to the same fact-checking and transparency standards.
Funding is only one challenge for the Wikitribune, though, reaching people is another. Many media critics would argue that Facebook’s algorithms have done as much to encourage bad media habits as websites’ particular funding models. But Wales says he’s confident that if the quality is good enough, Wikitribune won’t need to optimize for social media. “One thing that’s still true is that word of mouth is very powerful,” he says. “People do talk about things. Wikipedia has never paid a penny for advertising, but yet remains one of the most popular things in the world.”
While Wales’ aim is certainly noble, some journalism experts have questioned the impact such a site could have on the global news community. “There are a variety of people who — if it does this right — will view it as a trusted platform,” Joshua Benton, director of Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab, told the BBC. “But another 10 to 20 people are not going to ‘fix the news.’ There’s certainly a model for non-profit news that can be successful […] but I have a hard time seeing this scale up into becoming a massive news organization.”
But Wales says this is just the beginning, and that the first step is simply to attract funding and hire the journalists. English news will be the first to be covered, but he imagines the site will expand quickly into other languages, and sees German as a good second step. Mainly, though, Wales wants to attract “supporters who believe in good journalism.” He says: “We want to put out something thoughtful and serious that people read and they think ‘that really moves the needle for me.’”