Caught redhanded – BBC, Guardian sourcing Wikipedia

A little over a month ago, the French composer Maurice Jarre died. Ashes to ashes, etc., but emerging from his death comes a tale not of our frail humanity, but rather a sprawling yarn revealing the impact of the internet, globalisation, Wikipedia and it’s role in journalism.

Yawn. But bear with me, it’s a morbid and perverse anecdote almost too good to be true.

It starts with Shane Fitzgerald, a 22-year-old sociology student at the University College Dublin, and apparent average bloke, who on the evening of Jarre’s unfortunate end, mere hours after his death was announced, took it upon himself to edit the composer details on Wikipedia. All in the name of research.

As news outlets came round and began their regulatory obituary routine, it soon became clear that many journalists, including those from the BBC, Guardian and Independent, were citing Jarre’s Wikipedia page to supplement their articles.

As far as I know, a major faux pas, but who can be sure these days.

Fitzgerald had edited the page to include a benevolent, serendipitous quote from the music man, which read: “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.”

The quote was included in several of Jarre’s obituaries, the Guardian even electing to open with it, before the hoax was made public many days after the fact.

Wikipedia initially removed the quote because it gave no attribution, but thanks to Fitzgerald’s perseverance, it remained on the site for more than 24 hours.

The offending publications eventually redacted and retracted, but the damage was done.

Fitzgerald claims his actions were based in research, despite his reluctance to defile a dead mans legacy, and wanted to show that – with startling clarity – Wikipedia was a primary source for many of the world’s elite journalists.

In defence of those scribes that were caught redhanded, it’s probably a result of our, as in we, a culture, yearning for an ever-churning 24-hour news cycle. Sprinkled with a hint of laziness.

I won’t be enticed to say anything along the lines of, ‘no wonder print is dead’, so please hand me my 56-inch Kindle so I can help bail these yobs out.