Interview with Jimmy Wales and Jorge Marinho - WikiTribune: In Principio Erat Signum… Now, Continues in Portuguese…

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Authors: Adriana Peixoto*, Ana Rita Graça*, Carlos Trujillo*, Francini Monteiro Costa*, Francisca Mendes*, Frida X*, Inês Alves Vieira*, Inês Saraiva*, Lívia Spencer*, Maira Salazar*, Margarida Cruz*, Maria Francisca Cabral*, Milena Bento*, Natália Canadas*, Victória Dias*

*University of Porto (Portugal) Communication Sciences / Publics and Audiences Study Program student (2018-2019)

 

This work seeks to address cooperation between WikiTribune and academic research of curricular units in Semiotics of Communication and Publics and Audiences as part of the Communication Sciences Study Program at the University of Porto / Portugal (2018-2019), while highlighting the role of said cooperation in preparing the launch of WikiTribune in Portuguese.

(This interview was conducted via e-mail).

 

WikiTribune’s cooperation with university research

Question (Q): How did collaboration with the WikiTribune project come about, and how do you feel it has been beneficial for students, in educational and academic terms?

Answer (A) / Jorge Marinho: In principio erat signum… (In the beginning was the sign…) It all started when, in September 2018, as a professor of the curricular unit of Semiotics of Communication under the Communication Sciences Study Program of the University of Porto (Portugal), I gave several groups of students an academic assignment: to theoretically research the importance of signs, especially symbols, and, from a practical standpoint, create a logo for a digital medium – WikiTribune / English. Then, in February 2019, for the first time, I got in direct contact with Jimmy Wales, an American currently living in London, UK, and the founder of WikiTribune and Wikipedia. During this contact, I suggested that, in 2019, my students (Brazilian, Mexican and Portuguese nationals) in the curricular unit of Publics and Audiences under the Communication Sciences Study Program of the University of Porto continue collaborating with WikiTribune, as part of another academic research: in theoretical terms, study collaborative journalism and, within a practical sphere, publish articles on WikiTribune / English. Immediately, Jimmy Wales kindly agreed. That’s something I don’t forget and for which I’m grateful. Later on, Jimmy Wales and his team gave us the chance to pioneer in collaborating in the launch of WikiTribune in Portuguese, with articles and some administrative work. In fact, historically, when dealing with the Portuguese language on the various continents, a great Portuguese comes to mind: Luís de Camões (1524-1580…), with his life / work, especially Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads, 1572), to the very last word. Currently, the Portuguese language is also used when navigating the Internet with WikiTribune.

In my view, and based on reality, this cooperation between said curricular units under the Communication Sciences Study Program of the University of Porto and WikiTribune has enabled developing a theoretical-practical training. Regarding Publics and Audiences, students can:

-train in group work, within an international context, using the Internet to coordinate actions with the WikiTribune team located in London

-enhance knowledge regarding collaborative journalism

-interact with recipients / co-authors, from written and multimedia works, while making use of the Internet’s features

-create audience-adjusted contents

-understand the importance of the English language, as part of international / global communication

-segment publics / audiences as a function of the language code, as we see with Portuguese, for example.

At this intermediate stage, from my standpoint, the balance is very positive. In due course, with our academic independence, we will draw our final conclusions while submitting our recommendations.

Indeed, Jimmy Wales and his team know how to use the Internet to successfully implement projects in the area of communication. Wikipedia is en emblematic case. There are still some fields that Jimmy Wales and those working with him can delve into. For instance, I propose the following:

-entertainment / fiction, in English and Portuguese (video, WebTV, television channels on YouTube and cinema)

-the teaching of journalism.

A bust of Luis de Camões in the city of Porto (Portugal). Sculpted by: Irene Vilar (1980). Photo by: Jorge Marinho

Q: Why did you accept the invitation to work with the University of Porto Communication Sciences / Publics and Audiences Study Program students?

A (Jimmy Wales): I think in the opposite way! I am honored that the students have accepted an invitation to work with me!

Q: What were the reasons that motivated you to pursue collaborative journalism and why did you consider it important to take this new current of journalism into the classroom?

A (Jorge Marinho): WikiTribune allows students in the Publics and Audiences curricular unit under the Communication Sciences Study Program of the University of Porto to engage in a thorough study from within (that is, from a theoretical-practical viewpoint) of something relatively recent: collaborative journalism. To me, as a professor, it’s important to provide my students with in-depth, up-to-date training, through research assignments.

Collaborative journalism

Q: What is the importance of collaborative journalism in this digital era and how can it contribute to society?

A (Jimmy Wales): We know today that journalism is more important than ever before.  We are awash in misinformation and democracy and freedom are globally under threat from this.  Facts matter.  And yet the business models to sustain quality journalism have been under intense pressure.

We have to find a new way, and I believe that the new way has to become with a new set of values around co-operation, collaboration, and slow thoughtful dialog rather than chasing clicks.  I think most professional journalists came into the field with a passion for seeking the truth, not a passion for writing clickbait noise.  That’s what I hope collaboration with thoughtful community members who reward quality work can get us back to!

Q: How do you demystify that, in collaborative journalism, anyone, even people with no academic ties to journalism, can change and publish information on platforms such as WikiTribune? What alternative do you suggest for maintaining quality journalism, as anyone can sign up, publish and modify news stories?

A (Jorge Marinho): Indeed, for starters, WikiTribune shows broad openness to people in general disseminating their works, according to certain editorial principles / guidelines. However, before being considered actually published, said contents may have to undergo a draft stage. At this stage, the works can now be accessed and, possibly, for various reasons, edited / corrected by recipients and by people somehow linked to WikiTribune’s organizational structure. All this is set forth in order to uphold WikiTribune’s quality. Obviously WikiTribune’s quality is related to the quality of its (cyber)community, including those who are part of the organizational structure.

Q: WikiTribune makes no distinction between a “citizen journalist” and a professional journalist, but the same standards are expected from contributors. Why did you choose not to make this distinction on the platform?

A (Jimmy Wales): I think that people are people.  There are things that paid professional journalists can do that are very difficult for volunteers.  But there are also skills and talents in the community that are not replicated in professional staff.  So think equality is needed, otherwise we end up where all other news sites are – a certain kind of “top down” culture which isn’t helpful.

Q: Do you believe WikiTribune has the potential to change “traditional” journalism?

A (Jimmy Wales): Yes. I think there is a growing sense that we need to find better ways to support professional journalists and to better engage with the thoughtful people in the community.  Traditional journalism remains far too “top down” and mostly allows community participation through the comment boxes – where the worst people in the world scream at each other!

Q: Do you think WikiTribune could become the main platform for collaborative journalism?

A (Jimmy Wales): The funny thing about me is that I never think in those terms.  This question is framed in a way as to suggest “competition” but I never think about competition.  I think we should do things together that we find fun and interesting and worthwhile.  And if other people like it and it becomes popular, then all the better!

Q: Do you believe WikiTribune will be the main collaborative journalism platform, considering all concurrent alternatives?

A (Jorge Marinho): From the outset, WikiTribune, in English and in Portuguese, can improve in the short, medium and long term, without disrespecting alternative news websites, through honest work, dedication, innovation, creativity and skill, among other aspects. To this end, investigative journalism, exclusive news, the ability to differentiate relative to alternative ones, the avant-garde nature and dissemination are essential. The accommodation of paid professionals into all this warrants reflection.

Q: How can collaborative journalism influence the relationship between the media and its publics? Could this result in greater audience loyalty?

A (Jorge Marinho): Right off the bat, as part of collaborative journalism, recipients, too, can be authors or co-authors. As is the case with WikiTribune, a feature of this type of news media is a relatively high degree of interaction between the news items’ authors and their audiences. These audiences feel like a part of the action and, in reality, they are actually part of this medium. This leads to the creation of a (cyber)community comprising all those who somehow contribute to WikiTribune. In this respect, the emotional component of these ties is significant.

The Portuguese Language

Q: In what way could the Portuguese version of WikiTribune foster the practice of journalism in Portuguese students?

A (Jimmy Wales): I call the current generation of students “the Wikipedia generation” – which means that they understand open communities and collaboration.  I want to learn from young journalists about what is working and not working about the tools they are using to support communities.

Q: How can WikiTribune / Portuguese be turned into a more appealing platform, so that Portuguese students and journalists can voluntarily take part?

A (Jorge Marinho): Dissemination to the target audience, using, for instance, Public Relations campaigns, including social media and organization of events, can contribute toward raising awareness to this digital news media and, this way, attract collaborators. The formal and substantial quality of a means of communication also comprises a power of attraction. With proper management, all this entails human, technical and financial resources.

Q: In your opinion, will WikiTribune / Portuguese be able to easily attract collaborators?

A (Jorge Marinho): As I’ve replied in the preceding question, attracting collaborators is a task that includes various aspects. WikiTribune’s audience is a source of collaborators. We need to continually work to attract, maintain and increase WikiTribune’s target audience. Those performing this task need to have a short-, medium- and long-term perspective. Those performing this task need to be prepared to overcome internal and external difficulties.

Q: Do you think it will be easy to attract contributors to the Portuguese version of WikiTribune?

A (Jimmy Wales): I think the only way to find out is to try.  There is obviously not much that I can personally do to attract contributors other than say “You are invited” and so the key is to find people who can spread the word in social media, with friends, and in other publications.

Q: In what way is Portuguese an important addition to WikiTribune?

A (Jimmy Wales): As with all of my prior work at Wikipedia and Wikia/Fandom, I think in a global fashion.  To bring together a broad global community of thoughtful people who care about the news, to work together with professional journalists to produce something new, is my goal.

Q: Considering that Brazil is the country with the most speakers of Portuguese, on WikiTribune how will information be addressed, in order to prevent an excess of characteristic aspects involving the Brazilian variation of the Portuguese language, while taking into account the other Portuguese-speaking Countries?

A (Jorge Marinho): Portuguese, regardless variations, served and keeps on serving as a unifying factor between peoples, with mutual domestic and external benefits, as is the case with other languages in a similar situation. In this regard, I point out the CPLP (Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries) – Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Portugal, São Tomé & Príncipe, and East Timor. Within the context of the Portuguese language, I would also add, as an example, Macau (China).

P:- How is the Portuguese language an asset to WikiTribune?

A (Jorge Marinho): I would start by answering with facts, according to the Camões Institute (https://www.instituto-camoes.pt/images/eplp/Diptico_dlp16.pdf – consulted on April 18th, 2019):

“4ª língua mais falada no mundo (the 4th most widely spoken language in the world)

261 milhões de pessoas falam português nos cinco continentes (261 million people speak Portuguese on the five continents)

4% da riqueza total do globo (4% of the planet’s overall wealth)

5ª língua com maior número de utilizadores na Internet (5th most widely used language on the Internet).”

The Portuguese language can also be put into geopolitical and geoeconomic perspective.

However, for WikiTribune, in every one of its languages, the service it can provide at local, national and international / global levels is of utmost importance, thereby contributing toward the progress of Mankind.

 

(Interview originally published on WikiTribune – Portuguese, on April 21st, 2019 – https://pt.wikitribune.com/article/98402/ . This work marked the launch of the news site on that date)

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