Newspapers legitimize Wikipedia

National newspapers in the United States increasingly use Wikipedia as a source in their articles. A new study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of Journalism Practice, found that despite the perceived skepticism among journalists the online encyclopedia is framed mainly positively and neutral in newspaper coverage and has been increasingly referenced in the print editions over the course of eight years.

The study “Legitimizing Wikipedia: How US national newspapers frame and use the online encyclopedia in their coverage,” which I co-authored with my VCU colleague Jeff South, was published yesterday on iFirst. It will be published in Journalism Practice in April 2011. The following is the abstract of the study:

Within only a few years, the collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia has become one of the most popular websites in the world. At the same time, Wikipedia has become the subject of much controversy because of inaccuracies and hoaxes found in some of its entries. Journalists, therefore, have remained skeptical about the reliability and accuracy of Wikipedia’s information, despite the fact that research has consistently shown an overall high level of accuracy compared to traditional encyclopedia. This study analyzed the framing of Wikipedia and its use as a news source by five US national newspapers over an eight-year period. A content analysis of 1486 Wikipedia references in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today  and The Christian Science Monitor found that Wikipedia is framed predominantly neutral and positive, and that it is increasingly used as a news source. By framing Wikipedia as credible and accurate, the newspapers help legitimize the use of the online encyclopedia. By allowing Wikipedia to influence their news agendas as a source, the newspapers confirm the growing reliability of Wikipedia.

If you are interested in reading the complete the study, please e-mail.

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