Saturday, 21 June 2008

The neutral observer's perspective on the wiki article

Given Wikipedia's emphasis on the "neutral" point of view, it was interesting to get the POV of someone who had never come across the JA before a day or so ago, and then only a reference in someone's blog, which made him curious and made him consult wikipedia. Calling himself Gramby, he commented on the discussion page that the article seemed to have been sanitised, to be no more than a "fluff" piece promoting the JA. Reading the negotiations had in turn led him to the conclusion that John Campbell was vetting all the content of the article and using the wikipedia rules to stop sincere editors having a voice.

His comments put me on the spot a bit because I have a potentially invidious relationship with John, where, in the interests of the stability of the article, we communicate with each other and attempt to co-moderate the page. It is a questionable compromise and I am starting to question my role in it.

I may have let myself be too easily bullied by wikipedia zealots with a better handle than me on wikipedia's rules, into giving too much ground. That would not have happened if I had taken the trouble to read the wiki rules with sufficient care. From Gramby's comments I have realised that I have probably yielded too easily on the subject of verifiable sources, which need not be exclusively academic but can include respected news media. I used very few media sources, giving up my right to cite many others. Tabloids, for instance, may be less desirable than broadsheets, but they are still verifiable sources.

For the last couple of days John Campbell has been uncontactable and I would be reluctant to move until I have given him the chance to comment on Gramby's observations, but I do think Gramby is right and that editors must be assumed to be in good faith when they attempt to make changes to an article which we all know is a compromise which very largely covers up those aspects, past and present, which embarrass the JA. There has been a tendency for editors who have made changes without clearing them with others (in discussion) to be treated as vandals and disruptive elements. Reference has even been made to "potential disruption" or "vandalism" in the edit summaries. Why should any editor clear anything with me or John first? I would even question the right to include an insistence that edits be discussed first.

Negotiation and building relationships with people whose interests are contrary to your own is a very tricky business and involves "give and take" and it seems that I may have given rather too much. It may be time for me to be less of a school prefect on wikipedia and to hope that others will be enboldened to make some brave edits.

I apologise to anyone who has been frustrated in their efforts to make edits, if I have come across as a patsy, seemingly defending the JA's position by defending the stability of the article. If you read the history of the negotiated re-write, you may get a perspective on why I felt it was necessary to attempt to maintain a status quo. I hope you will get a sense of just how hard I fought to include facts which would shed a more revealing light on the JA, but which ultimately could be excluded using the perverse wiki rules of evidence.

Please appreciate that there is a lot in what is now in place which can be read between the lines, or which is very subtle and which would have been totally excluded if compromise had not been possible. My rationale has been in all this, that it is all very well being bold in what you put in, but there is not much point if it then gets immediately removed (reverted). Achieving a compromise that all can live with will mean that the edit will be allowed to stand.