Wired.com modifies the Citizendium story post-publication

Here's a disturbing one for you. Sometime after publication of the Citizendium article, the following grafs were inserted into the story right after the graf noting that Wales refused comment:

(Editor's note: Following publication of this article, Wales offered the following on-the-record comment in an e-mail to NewAssignment.net editor Jay Rosen:

"'Instigator' does not mean 'founder' is the main other comment I would make. My claim in this matter is quite simple, and this is on the record:

"Larry Sanger was my employee working under my direct supervision during the entire process of launching Wikipedia. He was not the originator of the proposal to use a Wiki for the encyclopedia project -- that was Jeremy Rosenfeld. And Larry has himself publicly stated, 'To be clear, the idea of an open source, collaborative encyclopedia, open to contribution by ordinary people, was entirely Jimmy's, not mine.'

"His role in the early days of Wikipedia was important -- he was considered the 'editor-in-chief' -- but it was not the role of founder. Larry was never comfortable with the open wiki process, and he has been critical of it from the beginning and to this day.")

I commented before about the inherent conflict of interest in our taking on a Citizendium story. I believe that the original story was as even-handed as you could get it, and thankfully, we were blissfully ignorant of Jay's involvement on the Wikimedia Foundation's advisory board (remember, for emphasis, that this board is advisory in nature only, not involved in the day-to-day running of Wikipedia). But now, post-publication, we've got changes being made to the story based on an e-mail from Wales to Rosen.

I have serious issues with the modification of any story after its publication, particularly when the modifications involve allegations that are central to the story itself.

It's a fact that Wales refused comment on the story pre-publication. Now re-read this sentence from the inserted copy:

"'Instigator' does not mean 'founder' is the main other comment I would make. My claim in this matter is quite simple, and this is on the record:

This is quite simply a smoking gun; by saying that he has an "other comment" that is "on the record," it is quite clear that there's more to this e-mail, and that what appeared above it was "off the record." This makes it even more obvious that there's some kind of communication going on behind the scenes.

I believe that if you don't vote, you lose your right to bitch about the government. And if you refuse to be interviewed for a story, you lose your right to have the story reflect your views. Them's my guns and I'm sticking to them.

A person involved on the project commented to me, privately, that knowing about the conflict of interest left a lingering "dirty" feeling. At the time, I knew that our team had done its due diligence. I didn't share this feeling, and replied as much. Until now. Now I feel dirty too.

Here's what happened....

Jay Rosen's picture

It didn't occur to me to post at the Citizendium topic page that I am on the advisory board to Wikipedia; that would have been a smart thing to do.

Here's what happened.

I had asked Jimmy Wales if he would participate in an Assignment Zero interview several months ago. I did not think of him commenting on the emergence of Citizendium, but on the social architecture of "open" systems on the Web. So we had him on our list of people we wanted to talk to. A few weeks ago Lauren Sandler wrote to me and asked to me help arrange the interview in time to make her deadlines, because she knew I had been in touch with Wales about it. Of course I am going to try to do that because I want your piece to succeed, and for the team to talk to those it should talk to.

So I asked him if he would agree to talk for publication about a.) Citizendium and b.) the social architecture of open systems. I tried, but he said he didn't want to comment on the record for our piece on Citizendium, and the piece says that: "Wales refused interview requests for this article." He later agreed to do the rest of the interview, which is here.

Then after the piece was published he had some responses. I again asked if he wanted to comment on the record. For there to be some back and forth on such a point is not unusual in journalism. People don't have to talk to us, they decide to. It happens to me as a blogger all the time. "Here's what I thought of your post." "Okay, did you want me run your comments on the record?" "Well, let me think about that..." "Okay, get back to me..." This was no different.

He decided to make a reply on the record. At this point it's a reply to a Wired.com article. I passed that part along to Evan Hansen and the editors who worked with you and let them decide what to do. They came up with the editor's note, which is what ran.

I'm sure there can be arguments about if we handled this the right way. But is it really the kind of scandal where you find smoking guns?

One more thing... an inserted editor's note that says, "Editor's note: Following publication of this article, Wales offered the following..." would seem to be a pretty transparent way of saying he wouldn't comment for the piece itself.

I posted this on Michael Ho's "We're so Wired..." post.

RWilliamKing's picture

Here's a response from Sanger in his own blog following the edits made to the CZ Piece on Wired's AZ post.