The last time I went camping I cooked over a campfire for the first time. I made a large pot of chili. It was delicious. The only problem was that I used the wrong type of pot. The bottom of the once shiny pot was blackened by the char from the campfire. The pot was not ruined, but it took quite a bit of work to clean it up. Even after scrubbing, it was never the same. For my subsequent meals I used equipment better for campfire cooking (sticks and tinfoil) and had a much easier time cleaning up.
Online there is a tool that is used with undue caution or avoided altogether. That tool is Wikipedia. My digital media literacy training in middle school and high school consistently taught that Wikipedia is not a reliable resource because anyone can edit it. The fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia is part of what makes the site such a powerful tool. Properly using Wikipedia requires some verification skills, though. This video shares some quality information on how to use Wikipedia correctly and what makes it a great source.
Just as there is certain equipment that works best for cooking over a campfire, there are certain guidelines that should be followed when using Wikipedia. I recently had the opportunity to work on one of Wikipedia’s collaborative projects, WikiProject Newspapers, and I learned some valuable things about using the site.
To begin my contribution, I looked at a list of newspapers in Washington that needed articles written about them. The list had already been created by contributors to the Wikiprojects Newspapers. This made it easy for me to have somewhere to begin. I initially began looking at a paper that was just listed as “County Chronicle”. I had a hard time finding information on Mondo Times and the Library of Congress about the paper. Knowing that there are probably multiple papers called “County Chronicle”, I tried to narrow the results by state and still came up dry. As I last ditch effort I did a Google search and found out the paper’s full name is likely The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle. There was already an article for that paper. I ended up leaving a note stating this with a link.
I decided to move on the Goldendale Sentinel. I was able to immediately find information about the page on the Library of Congress and Mondo Times. These are both good secondary sources. The newspaper existed and was still in print. The next part was trickier. Before I started working on the page I wanted to make sure that the newspaper was notable, otherwise it would not necessarily need its own Wikipedia article. I began by checking to see if there was news about the paper in other newspapers. There wasn’t. I also checked to see if the paper had won any awards but could not find information on that either. I finally checked Google to see if it had been mentioned in books. There was a book that actually had history about how the newspaper started. It also mentioned that it was the oldest newspaper in eastern Washington. When I checked Klickitat County’s page I also found that the newspaper was listed as a community media source. These last two facts gave me enough confidence in the notability of the newspaper to begin drafting a page. It doesn’t have much, but it lays groundwork for some future collaboration.
Putting in the work to find information and working on a project that many other people confirmed many of the things that I believed about Wikipedia. For one thing, the collaborative nature of the site is what makes it so powerful. My research was somewhat limited but other users can add more information later. Further, Wikipedia uses citations heavily. The sources have to be secondary sources and should be credible. For me, the sources are what makes the site functional. While users don’t know who wrote the article they can find where the author got the information. Wikipedia is a great place to do introductory research, just like cooking over a campfire is a great way to cook in the woods. Both just require the right set of equipment and skills.