When done properly.
Shane Fitzgerald, a student at Dublin university, altered a Wikipedia page shortly after French composer, Maurice Jarre, died. The idea was to see how information gets passed in this media intensive world. He suspected that deadlines and pressure to present a story first leads to, perhaps, laziness and lack of quality controls, with respect to the journalistic product.
Looks like he was right, although I must say its not too surprising.
The quote he added to a Wikipedia page was:
"One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack…Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head that only I can hear."
Sounds artsy and something that a composer might in fact say. Good work. Wikipedia, contrary to what some conservatives might say, actually flagged the quote as unsubstantiated and, according to the article, deleted it twice (and its gone now too).
But what happened?
The sociology major's obituary-friendly quote …flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India. They used the fabricated material…even though administrators at the free online encyclopedia twice caught the quote's lack of attribution and removed it.
A full month went by and nobody noticed the editorial fraud. So Fitzgerald told several media outlets they'd swallowed his baloney whole.
Pathetic. The article gives some advice to future lazy journalists.
"The moral of this story is not that journalists should avoid Wikipedia, but that they shouldn't use information they find there if it can't be traced back to a reliable primary source," said the readers' editor at the Guardian, Siobhain Butterworth, in the May 4 column that revealed Fitzgerald as the quote author.
This is not advice to journalists…this is advice to everyone. That is how you use Wikipedia! Wikipedia is not the end point in when looking for data to back up an argument or present a fact…its the starting point! “Wikipedia said so” is not a good argument. No one should be using it that way. It is useful for basic, uncontested data, perhaps the atomic weight of an element, or President Washington's first name. But if you really want to be able to present an argument based on real evidence, use Wikipedia to start your searches, not end them.
Anyway, to Mr. Fitzgerald, good on you! To blogs and newspapers who credulously reported the first thing they could find. Boo!