[Wikimedia-l] crazy deletionists!

Delirium delirium at hackish.org
Wed Jul 4 10:14:33 UTC 2012

On 7/4/12 1:04 AM, Andreas Kolbe wrote:
> What would a Wikipedia look like that did not make use of press sources? It
> would look a hell of a lot more like an encyclopedia. Thousands of silly
> arguments would never arise. Thousands of apposite criticisms of Wikipedia
> would never arise. These are good things.
> Unfortunately, such a Wikipedia would also have vastly impoverished
> coverage of popular culture and current affairs. The articles on Lady Gaga
> and Barack Obama would be years behind events; the articles on the Japan
> earthquakes, which I believe Wikipedia was widely praised for, would only
> now begin to be written, articles on many towns and villages would lack
> colour and detail.

It's an intriguing idea, and I agree with the general principle of 
reducing reliance on sources with less gestation time, of which 
newspapers are the biggest offender. I do tend to apply it in an 
as-alternatives-are-available fashion, and to many kinds of sources. For 
example, citing a recent academic conference paper may be justified if 
no synthesizing source is available, but there are dangers to cobbling 
together a new synthesis out of a dozen conference papers that may or 
may not be representative of majority views in a field, that may now be 
obsolete in ways unbeknownst to the reader, etc. Better to cite a proper 
book or survey article, if one is available.

A problem with avoiding newspapers entirely, added to those you mention, 
is that we'd even lose many things that aren't that recent. Especially 
in their more "summary" pieces such as obituaries and biopics, 
newspapers (and newsmagazines) fill in a lot of fairly uncontroversial 
information on more minor, but potentially still important, people and 
events. For the ancient world, that information is compiled fairly 
exhaustively in academic sources; you can find at least a three-sentence 
biography of every attested figure in some kind of specialist 
encyclopedia, e.g. the impressively comprehensive _Prosopography of the 
Later Roman Empire_. But for 20th-century figures that's often not the 
case. For example, I've written a number of articles on minor political 
figures (a mayor of Houston, say) primarily sourced from obituaries in 
major newspapers, e.g. the NYT's obituary section. For what they are, 
they are usually reliable enough: they provide some dates, a summary of 
offices held, and a brief mention of why the person is known. For famous 
figures, there are usually better sources, but for minor figures the 
alternatives are often more like primary sources, e.g. the state or 
municipal archives, or not including an article at all.


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