We’ve all heard the derision at one point or another about the usefulness, in fact, the legitimacy of items gleaned from the pages of Wikipedia. Its detractors roil about how anyone can put anything on there and the skeleton crew that serves as an editorial staff may or may not get around to addressing such items in a timely basis. I know, firsthand, how companies have tried to “control the message” about what goes on their Wikipage. Imagine! Wouldn’t it be great if we could allow only the nice things said about us and all other facts that may disparage our reputations are cast to the waste bin of knowledge? What a world that would be! Its supporters, on the other hand, say it’s a useful tool for getting information quickly and easily with the caveat that the information may not be entirely accurate. Pardon me, but if that’s the standard, then Wikipedia-gained knowledge ranks right above gossip as to its integrity.
Knowledge is a funny thing. Some of us go to college and expand our horizons and learn about things we may never experience outside of the classroom. I’ve taken years of German, but will probably never set foot in ol’ Deutschland even though I spent most of my military career trying to get there; it just wasn’t in the cards. I’ve learned a great many things and I have to trust that the knowledge I’ve gained is accurate or, at least, tested and challenged as to its veracity. As it is with many things we read or see; so it is with Wikipedia. It may not be the Library of Alexandria, or even the Library of Congress, but it is a collection of information to do with as we will.
The problem seems to be that I keep coming across sites on the internet that are little more than aggregate sites of various news items. These sites didn’t come by their information honestly, they’re just parroting what somebody else wrote. They don’t do investigation work, they just practice the cut-and-paste method of journalism (and maybe pay off a few folks to keep from getting sued). The comments, particularly with political sites are even worse as any lame-brained notion is likely to be “backed-up” with a link to – yes, you guessed it, Wikipedia. Naturally, once the poster has been vilified for using Wikipedia, the excuse is, “I know, but I’m in a hurry.” I’m not saying Wikipedia is total garbage, but I want to hear from people who actually know something, not any clown who can cut-and-paste something. Unfortunately, I think the problem is getting worse.
I had the occasion recently to look into the 1909 Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, the “Most Valuable Baseball Card in the World”. In fact, that’s what we called it for the Wal-Mart giveaway back in 1996. I should know, I worked at Treat Entertainment, the company responsible for the contest through Wal-Mart. I designed much of the artwork, such as it was, for the card packaging as well as the label that went on the case of the card that was given away. In fact, it was through my time at Treat that I learned how Wal-Mart operated and to hate them for what they are and what they’ve done to our economy. But that’s another story; back to the card.
As I looked over Wikipedia, I read about the card, the history of the most famous version – the “Wayne Gretzky” card, that Gretzky and Bruce McNall owned, and how this card became the centerpiece for the Wal-Mart giveaway after Treat paid Gretzky $500,000 for it. But Wikipedia never mentioned the other T206 card that Treat had. There was something special about that card that technically devalued it, but made the card unique. I never saw this particular something mentioned about any Wagner T206. So I looked over at other sites that dealt with collectible sports cards and found that, largely, the articles were verbatim copies of the Wikipedia entry! It didn’t seem to matter if the information was true, false, or otherwise, they went to their one source and plagiarized the write-up.
One of the things one learns in school – especially college – is that you don’t copy anything! You also don’t rely on just one source for your information and you credit your sources. It seems that the need for accuracy and thorough collection of information has taken a backseat to quick-and-easy and just flat-out laziness. Who cares if it’s done “properly”? It not like anybody’s writing a term paper here.
Yet you are, or, at least, you should be employing the same writing standard as if you are. After all, you want people to take you seriously – especially if you’re writing about a serious subject that matters to you. What people are going to see from the lazy source gathering, poor grammar and spelling, and lack of proofreading is that you don’t give a shit! And if all you’re doing is creating click-bait or just trolling, why should anybody give a shit about anything you say?