The Globe and Mail has a regular feature called “Collected Wisdom” by Philip Jackman, in which a bunch of people ask questions and another bunch of people answer them. The questions are those didja-ever-wonder types, like “why aren’t there A and B batteries?” that you’d find the answers to in Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader books.
Some other examples:
- What’s the difference between an ear of corn and corn on the cob?
- How does Environment Canada measure snowfall accurately?
- Why is North America on the left of world maps?
- Why do men’s and women’s shirts button on different sides?
- Why don’t limes have seeds?
This column is part of the traditional media’s embracing of News 2.0, interactivity, where the reader/viewer/listener has power. It’s the same reasoning behind republishing anonymous troll comments in newspapers, or those “live” web chats the Globe is so fond of.
The problem is that this goes against the entire point of having a trusted news source. This column seems to pride itself on not doing any fact-checking whatsoever, nor providing credible source material for the answers it gives.
Forget the fact that many questions can be answered by spending about 30 seconds on Wikipedia or doing a Google search. The answers aren’t checked to make sure they’re right. Occasionally it might come from an expert, but the vast majority of the answers have the same authoritative backing as that guy at a bar or your friend Vinny who says he knows everything about everything.
As a result, we get urban legends repeated as truth, multiple (sometimes conflicting) answers to the same question, and corrections.
It would be one thing if these questions, interesting as they are, were answered by experts in those fields (you know, the way all those “ask the experts” columns are done). But why leave fact-gathering (and fact-verifying) to the most untrustworthy source that can possibly be found: some random person you don’t know?
Either it’s a really dumb idea or it’s just plain lazy journalism. Either way it’s not the way to innovate in the face of the Web revolution.