January 19, 2019

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Two Thoughts on Tuesday

Two Thoughts on Tuesday

**First up: Wikipedia’s obstinate march to uselessness**
For at least one very large community, Wikipedia is losing its relevance–the e-patient community. For anyone who has received a recent diagnosis, don’t bother using Wikipedia to find out anything more than rudimentary information about a disorder. Wikipedia’s rules prohibit linking to forums or support groups, as they deem them not “encyclopedic” but rather an “advertising opportunity or support group for patients.”
What Wikipedia seems to miss in this exclusion is the ironic fact that these support groups act as an information and resource sharing mechanism, largely in the same way that Wikipedia itself does. In fact, patient forums and communities are sometimes the best places to learn about actually living with a disease, as those participating in the forums are the patients and family members. This point is made far more lucidly by Craig Stoltz at [The Health Care Blog](http://www.thehealthcareblog.com/the_health_care_blog/2008/04/wikipedia-time.html).
While I use Wikipedia and like it for its ready access, stories like this definitely have me questioning both Wikipedia’s usefulness and long-term viability. A bunch of crackpots and activists can write an entry about a company, but the company–and its PR firm–are both prohibited from correcting the record. Patients living with a disease are considered less informative because they are writing in the first person.
The interactive Web/Web 2.0, whatever you want to call it, is the phenomenon it is because of interaction and participation. The need for editorial standards is obvious, but Wikipedia’s “standards” are fungible to the point of almost being useless–anyone can edit except for some people, links to medical fundraisers are okay but message boards are not–and so on. Wikipedia is actually acting against its basic value proposition: to be *the* respected and “go-to” information clearinghouse on the web, because what they are excluding is valuable content.
**Next up: Are Mainstream Media sources really ready for comments?**
Back in 1995, violinist Rachel Barton Pine was involved in a Metra Train accident in Chicago–her violin was caught inside the train while the strap was still on her shoulder. She was dragged by the train, and one of her legs was severed, the other severely mangled. The story is tragic, but after many surgeries, she’s trying to make a comeback.
Her story was covered in a long piece by the *[Chicago Tribune](http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/magazine/chi-080330barton-story,1,1059258.story?page=1)*, and in some areas she is perhaps too honest. What people often look for in these stories of comeback are uncommon heroes, who do not complain about their injuries, and never cry or get upset. Rachel is direct with journalist Howard Reich, this injury stalled her career, and sometimes she’s angry and upset about it.
And so, in the comments section, readers of the story apparently were not kind to the violinist, and according to [Chicagoist](http://chicagoist.com/2008/04/28/the_sound_of_a.php) called her “a whiner, ungrateful for her second chance at life, and unjustly deserving of the $29 million settlement she received in court.” I say apparently because the 170 comments disappeared.
What is not clear is if this happened by accident, or if the Trib’s comment section was broken, or if they decided to shut the comments down. While the reason that the comments disappeared is important–a problem with a commenting platform is a long way from censorship–it does raise the question: are newspapers really ready for comments?
This was a good article, about a young woman who really has faced some tremendous obstacles. Do negative comments deserve a place alongside this piece? Do reading negative comments color the reader’s perspective of the piece after the fact?

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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