A walk on the Wiki side

THERE are two types of Wikipedia entry: Those that have been vandalised, and those that should be. Middlesbrough defender David Wheater’s entry falls into the latter category.
Wheater’s entry, which appears to have been written by a particularly dim seven-year-old left to suffer brain-rot in front of the television by his parents, contains the following piece of poorly phrased jaw-dropping irrelevance:
Wheater was named in an understrength Middlesbrough side away to Bristol City in the FA Cup third round, when he saved his team with a goal as he burst forward from the back and scored the winner in a 2–1 at Ashton Gate. Matt Le Tissier was reporting the match on Gillette Soccer Saturday and made the following comment about the goal; “Wheater carried on his run and he came in with a right foot finish – a great finish for a centre back – it was Beckenbauer-esque!”
Now I always thought a professional footballer’s career should be measured out in successes and failures: Trophies and promotions won, cup finals lost, international caps earned, relegations suffered. Sure, you can throw in some juicy personal details, too, if there happen to be any.
But no. Apparently, the throwaway comments of an ex-footballer watching a game on a TV screen on Soccer Saturday are now considered worthy of posterity. I despair.
And it makes me worry about the future of written sports journalism too. Let me explain.
You don’t have to do an awful lot of scrabbling around on the net to find articles telling you that newspapers are in trouble. This articles usually go as follows:
Newspapers, dying, job cuts, advertising downturn, internet, citizen journalism, blogging, democratisation, redundancies, efficiencies, 24-hour news, online communities, 60 per cent pay rise for the chief executive.
Amid all of the hoo-hah as to what will happen to traditional print media (and it’s not pretty) is the idea that citizen journalism presents a way forward – that’s the idea of the public producing news and sticking it straight on the web themselves. There will be fewer paid journalists in future, and more volunteers.
In some ways, citizen journalism is nothing new. During my days as a weekly newspaper sports editor, around three-quarters of my material consisted of schools and local league match reports submitted by enthusiastic amateurs. Many of them, despite having no journalistic training, were superb at writing for newspapers. A few weren’t great, and needed substantial tweaking. The odd report was sent in by someone who was clearly nuts. I tended to throw those in the bin.
The difference there was that there was someone in place (me) to filter all this stuff and get rid of the crap, the nonsensical and the libellous. Generally, I succeeded. (It was the crap I wrote myself that I had trouble filtering out, as you’ll know from reading this blog.) Too many websites don’t have that filter.
Wikipedia is the paragon of online citizen journalism. Anyone can update it, and it polices itself. Unfortunately, most of the people who update the football entries on Wikipedia seem to be the sort of semi-literate buffoons whose perspective on the world begins and ends with Soccer Saturday.
You don’t believe me? Take a check on how long the Soccer Saturday quotes section is on Jeff Stelling’s entry.
All of this would be fine if people took Wikipedia with the pinch of salt it deserves. But where there’s a website, there’s a credulous patsy willing to be taken in by whatever it says, without question.
Citizen journalism, if it is to succeed, has to be a bit sharper than that. Otherwise, we could wake up one morning in a few years time to discover that Stelling is our Prime Minister. (He’s a really nice guy by all accounts, as well as a brilliant sports presenter, but you’re not going to save the economy by making jokes about Gareth Jelleyman’s surname.)
Fortunately, where there’s dim-wittedness, there’s potential for mischief. And that is an awful lot funnier than parroting the tongue-in-cheek words of Matt Le Tissier as if they were handed down on tablets of stone.
And if that mischief finds its way back into the traditional media, it’s even funnier.
Here’s my favourite example: There was a national newspaper reporter who fell for such a piece of Wiki-mischief a few months ago, when previewing a Manchester City UEFA Cup tie. Needing to find some information on opponents Omonia Nicosia, he turned to Google, and then Wikipedia. He then told his readers that Omonia fans “are known as ‘The Zany Ones’ and wear hats made from shoes”. They aren’t. They don’t. Oh dear.
(I should point out that I copied all of the information on that story from the internet, so I’m no better really.)
Now if only someone could start a similar rumour about David Wheater on Wikipedia, it might start to take it a little more seriously.

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