Real names policy -- a note from Jimmy Wales

(Note: I wrote this in the form of an essay from me, but what it should be is a general document. Rather than editing it in that direction right now, please let’s discuss it on the talk page as a starter essay from me, and then after a period of time once we’ve reached some consensus, we can create a more formal policy based on the ideas here. –Jimmy Wales)

WikiTribune has a policy of strongly preferring real names. In this note I want to explain why I’m doing it this way, and what some exceptions are, and also to invite the community to help refine this policy over time.

Wikipedia does not require or even particularly encourage real names, so you might think that I would follow that policy and do the same at WikiTribune. But there is one very big difference. Wikipedia always requires “reliable sources” which is a particular term of art at Wikipedia. What it essentially means is that everything in Wikipedia is ideally traceable to already published information, whether in scholarly publications, reputable news articles, etc.

It doesn’t matter who the author is, so long as the source is good, because anyone can check to see if what is written in Wikipedia matches the source.

Here we have the same approach to quality: we want to be as high quality as we can. But we also are doing something which is not part of the Wikipedia process: original reporting. To do this in a high quality and transparent way, it is important that authors be credible and trustworthy. Real names is one factor in that. (Note well that I am not claiming it is foolproof, nor that it is easy, just that the odds are in favor of it.)

The core idea is that because we are writing original journalism, we should stand behind our words with our real identities.

We don’t have this yet, but in our software we will have the ability (but not the requirement) for authors to connect to their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles – this is an additional way for people to demonstrate who they are. I’m very open to other possibilities as well.

We want WikiTribune journalism to be trustworthy, so we plan to the maximum extent possible to depend on “evidence based” approaches — we don’t just tell you that person X said Y, we offer you the video, the audio and a transcript, whenever possible. That level of transparency extends to the community as well.

There are exceptions. Of course.

There are cases when a community reporter will be working in a very difficult jurisdiction where reporting under their real name could cause them to be harmed. In such cases, our staff editors will have to make a judgment call as to how to handle the situation. Because this is a new project, I am not yet sure what all the factors might be in such a case, but the goal in due course is to develop a robust and subtle policy to make reasoned decisions.

I want your help with this. The plan is to launch with a general policy of strongly preferring real names and to make case by case exceptions where it makes sense. But I would like us as a community to have a reasoned discussion.

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