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Wikipedia founder lays off all journalists from his new media website

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The WikiTribune is shifting to a community-focused operation

Goalkeepers: The Global Goals 2017 Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ digital media company, the WikiTribune, is shifting its focus away from traditional news-gathering and moving to a “community oriented” strategy that prioritizes working with contributors.

In the process, the company has laid off its 12 original editorial staffers, reports The Drum, following the April departure of CNN and Reuters journalist Peter Bale, who initially assembled the team. The WikiTribune began in August of last year, and Wales and his co-founder Orit Kopel posted a note to the site earlier this week first mentioning the “major personnel changes” and the reframing of its focus on the community.

“As this project is so radical, the only way to learn is to try, make mistakes, fix them and move forward,” Kopel told The Drum in an interview. “The main thing that we learned so far is that in order to implement our vision, we should give the community the full confidence that WikiTribune is based on their contributions, while the professional team is here mainly to serve them where needed.”

The site’s original vision was to develop a new kind of online newspaper that would evolve much like a Wikipedia page, using a collaborative and community-led reporting and fact-checking process. The goal was to help combat fake news and the perception from the public that media organizations have ulterior motives and are incentivized not by truth and the presentation of facts, but by ad revenue, political bias, and other pressures. The site is designed to be ad-free, with readers paying a subscription fee that would then help dictate the type of coverage its reporters turned out.

Kopel admitted to The Drum that because the project has been in an extended pilot period — Wales wrote in his initial post that the WikiTribune won’t enter beta for another six months — that mistakes have been made and that the organization is learning from them. Primarily, it seems that there were concerns the editorial team would have an outsize influence on how articles and reports were shaped and vetted.

“We stated from the first day WikiTribune was launched that we think of our community and the professional journalists as equals,” she said. “It means that at no stage were the journalists there to ‘overlook’ the community’s work, but were there to work with them collaboratively in order to develop high-quality news articles.” The WikiTribune plans to hire more journalists in the future in a capacity that is more community-driven and less about supervising the work of outside contributors.