Last month a preview article shared by WikiTribune, the recently launched London-based journalism project of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, was criticized for blatant anti-Trump bias in its coverage promoting a conference on the United Nations-linked Global Goals campaign.
The article focused on British filmmaker Richard Curtis, the founder of the Global Goals campaign through his group Project Everyone: a group whose co-founders include Wales’ wife.
Published on September 18, the article, entitled “The ‘great and the good’ meet to promote UN Global Goals,” was a “taster” meant as a preview of the kind of journalistic work to be expected from WikiTribune. It covered a conference on the “Global Goals” campaign, an effort started by Curtis in coordination with the United Nations to move toward implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The article came under intense scrutiny from readers and donors to the outlet that found numerous errors and complained of the article’s apparent partisan bias. Starting out by describing the “Goalkeepers” conference as “pushing against the nationalism and gloom evident since Brexit and the U.S. election,” the article proceeded to erroneously claim President Barack Obama left office in November of 2016. Comments on the story were quick to mention these and other problems with the piece.
As noted in an article for The Times, those reviewing the “taster” article were often harsh in their criticism. One self-declared liberal described the piece as “hopelessly biased right from the start” and another compared it to “a news digest aimed at children.” One of the outlet’s financial backers even commented to announce he was ending his financial contributions. WikiTribune hopes to sustain its operations using donors rather than advertisers.
Edits were made to the article in response to these comments to minimize the bias and fix errors. Launch editor Peter Bale told The Times this “shows the model, we will be responsive and listening.” The outlet is intended to be a hybrid between traditional journalism and crowd-sourced news. However, the article at the time the Times story was published nearly a month later still contained errors and poor writing noted by readers commenting on the updated piece.
In a piece published Thursday for the Global Editors Network, of which Bale is president, Bale again touted the model of WikiTribune. While acknowledging the errors in the piece, Bale disputed the claims of a left-wing bias. He suggested the only possible left-wing bias to the story would be that it was about human rights and the “Global Goals” initiative.
Not mentioned in the piece is the close connection Wales has to the “Global Goals” initiative. While Wales is disclosed as one of the speakers at the conference, his involvement in advocating for the initiative is not. On Twitter Wales has previously stated he would do everything he could “to make the Global Goals a reality” and invited model and actress Lily Cole, now an advisor to WikiTribune, to join him:
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) September 21, 2016
Wales was a featured speaker at the 2015 launch of the “Global Goals” campaign alongside Curtis. Although the piece mentions WikiTribune as participating in the 2017 conference, Wales has been involved in other capacities previously. Both his Wikia site and the Wikimedia Foundation, where Wales holds a “founder” seat on the board, were listed as taking action to support the Global Goals campaign during its 2015 launch.
His support for the “Global Goals” campaign is not coincidental. Project Everyone, the group founded by Curtis and responsible for organizing the campaign, lists Kate Garvey as one of its co-founders. Garvey worked for Tony Blair during his tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and served as a director at the PR firm Freud Communications. For those familiar with Wikipedia, Garvey is also known for being married to Wales. Despite her and her husband’s close connections to Curtis and the “Global Goals” campaign, this conflict of interest is not disclosed in the piece.
It is not the first instance where WikiTribune has found itself under fire since the project was announced. An interview with 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig was published in May, and Wikipediocracy, a Wikipedia criticism site, noted the interview piece never mentioned Lessig’s role as an advisor to WikiTribune.
Although it was essentially a promotional piece about WikiTribune itself, Wikipediocracy also mentioned the piece erroneously claimed Lessig had only been in two films, whereas his IMDB page listed 32 different appearances in film and television. The only other place where the error could be found is on Lessig’s Wikipedia page. Wikipediocracy attributed these mistakes to the inexperience of the author, a criticism The Times has also raised about the outlet’s staff.
Launched this week, WikiTribune has been touted by Wales as the answer to the world’s purported “fake news” problem. Using crowd-sourcing akin to Wikipedia, filtered through a team of professional journalists, Wales claims the outlet will be able to “fix” the broken news media by hewing to the online encyclopedia’s purported tradition of neutrality. If its history so far is any indication, WikiTribune is instead poised to be just another error-prone liberal media outlet.
T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.