Tuesday, June 24, 2008

 

Professionals and Amateurs

I just saw this bit of news: within minutes of newsman Tim Russert's death last week of a sudden heart attack, one of the first things someone at the scene did was...update his article on Wikipedia.

Silly me. I've been contributing to Wikipedia for getting close to six years now, and I figure my first reaction would be to dial 911 or start administering first aid.

Good to know that not everyone who worked with Russert was in such awe of the man that they decided not to wait just a little longer until his family was informed, before being the first to update his Wikipedia article, the new standard of knowledge about everything. If a media professional isn't interested in showing some respect to the family of the recently dead, then why should the folks of the English language Wikipedia bother about the ideals of WP:BLP?

Sorry if I'm sounding a bit off-the-wall; it's hard to be effectively sarcastic when one's mind is still reeling over how a professional would do something truly tasteless and insensitive. But I hope this example of stupidity in the "Real World" shows that when an otherwise well-meaning Wikipedian regular makes a mistake in contributing to an article about a living person, it's not the end of the world. Although it's clear to me now where some of these tactless ideas come from -- outside the Wikipedia bubble.

Geoff

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Comments:
It is pretty clear from the article you linked to and other articles that the person was not "at the scene" but worked at an NBC affiliate. Meaning they were probably werent anywhere near the scene and maybe on the other side of the country and just were unaware that the news was not public yet.
 
To anon: Maybe you're right. It was late in the day when I wrote this post, & my concern was expressing my amazement over this insensitive act & go to bed, rather than resolve IP addresses & verify accusations. (Your point was brought up in the comments section of the linked article before that disintegrated into noise.)

However, the first edit came in at 1901, UTC, which I calculate to be 3:01 pm, New York time (adjusted for daylight savings time). 38 minutes after he was pronounced dead at the hospital -- the Wikipedia article states he died at 2:23 pm. I'm dubious that Russert's family had received the information that quickly.

Even if the anonymous editor was at another location, someone at the scene had to sent out the word, either by phone or text. If I had received that information, my first question would have been, "Is it safe for me to share this? To update Russert's biography on Wikipedia?" Looking at the history of the article, a little more than 10 minutes later, someone at the same IP address apparently thought the same thing and reverted the edit. Maybe it was the same person, maybe another coworker, but the information was out there, possibly before Russert's family knew.

Just because we can keep Wikipedia up-to-the-moment doesn't always mean we should.

Geoff
 
the NYT/IHT had an interesting article about this: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/23/business/link.php
 
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