July CommQuote

When Tim Russert died news outlets and networks deferred to his home network, NBC, to be the first to announce the news. NBC delayed announcement until the family had been notified. But folks updating Wikipedia were not so restrained; Igor Tossell writing for the Globe and Mail (Canada) offers some insight into why he went into the Meet the Press entry and updated history before it “happened” in the more official media.

“But the online swarm is an amoral organism that doesn’t have much use for clubby gentlemen’s agreements. A full 40 minutes before NBC announced the news, somebody else updated Russert’s main Wikipedia entry, indicating his date of death, and changed everything to the past tense…The thing is, Wikipedia isn’t really about history at all. It’s actually a creature of the moment. It might be spotty on historical details, but it’s the best answer we have to the question, “Where do things stand right now?” Who’s alive? Who’s dead? Is the Burj Dubai finished yet? What happened on the last episode of Lost? It’s not so much an encyclopedia as a registry of – and I use this word with some trepidation – reality. It’s an ever-changing ledger book of where things stand in our universe. And being the one to register momentous news in the ledger of life is like being God’s secretary. This may or may not have been exactly what Jimmy Wales had in mind when he started Wikipedia those years ago. This probably wasn’t what that benighted soul had in mind when he prematurely killed Tim Russert on Wikipedia. But the lure of being the one to update the accounts on reality will have people clamouring to yell “first” for as long as they have the option.”

–Ivor Tossell
I Killed Tim Russert (on Wikipedia)
The Globe and Mail, June 27, 2008

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