Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pedro J. Ramírez, Ralph Lauren And Wikipedia

It's not all about elections, especially when the campaign is as boring as this one. I was in Sevilla last weekend and although the excuse for going was to attend Evento Blog España 2011 (EBE), I took advantage of the trip to enjoy the fantastic weather and some excellent tapas recommendations from SevillaTapas. On Friday evening though, I stayed relatively late at the conference to listen to the final presentation of the day by El Mundo's editor, Pedro J. Ramírez. Those who have read anything on my other blog will be aware that Ramírez is not exactly high on my list of admired journalists, but I still couldn't resist the temptation to hear what he had to say.

On the face of it, Pedro Jota wouldn't seem like a natural speaker for an event like EBE but he was scheduled to talk about his experience with using Twitter. Despite only having been a user for a few months, his prodigious output on Twitter may well be responsible for many of those error messages with the whale that the rest of us get when we try to catch up with what has been happening. It's a mixture of promotion for El Mundo and their paywall Orbyt, together with more typical autobombo from Ramírez as well as a hefty percentage of plugs for his latest book. It has to be said, though, that Ramírez has adopted a slightly less lofty stance than many other newspaper editors who don't really believe in direct online dialogue with their readers.

Pedro Jota also knows how to spin a good tale and to work an audience, so his reception at EBE was generally enthusiastic. One entertaining anecdote he told in response to a question about Google got a good laugh from the audience. He claimed that whilst taking his daughter around universities in the US he was presented with a copy of the page about him from Wikipedia and that this page claimed that "he is divorced and lives with Ralph Lauren". All seemingly quite possible, but Ramírez embellished his story by claiming that Larry Page of Google personally apologised to him for this entry and offered to track down the culprit.

This latter claim caught my attention, "why would Google apologise for something that appears in Wikipedia?" was my immediate thought. They have nothing to with the online encyclopaedia. So yesterday, just to demonstrate that I have little idea of what to do with my time and being fully aware of how Ramírez can play fast and loose with the facts, I decided to do a bit of investigation. The great thing about Wikipedia is that every single edit made to a page is still available, and I went through the edit history for his Wikipedia page. It didn't take long, Pedro Jota's pretensions to be the Spanish Bob Woodward haven't yet made him an international celebrity. The famous Ralph Lauren claim doesn't appear anywhere. For good measure I went through the significantly larger, and occasionally quite entertaining, edit history for the Spanish article on the man. Plenty of vandalism and the occasional insult, but no mention of Ralph either.

So what, you might say. A bit of journalistic licence to get a laugh out of an audience doesn't do much harm. But the really striking thing about going through a Wikipedia edit history is the way in which almost all vandalism or inaccuracies get systematically corrected or removed by the editing community. People put silly things in all the time, but they don't usually last long because of a general seriousness about the project. Contrast this with the repugnant, manipulative, hugely inaccurate pile of steaming horseshit that Pedro J. Ramírez and friends have published about the Madrid bombings and which has not been subjected to a single correction or rectification. You see, Pedro Jota was using the Ralph Lauren tale in an attempt to justify the need for "professional" journalists as opposed to the efforts of the amateur crowd in internet.


Lee said...

Good old El Mundo. I remember sometime back in 96 or 97 when an article insisted that the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire never happened (the reporter insisted there was no documentation). And let's not forget the time they lifted a story from the US humor magazine, The Onion (about how the post-war ruling council of Iraq would be chosen from amateurs like Operación Triunfo.)

Graeme said...

Last night and this morning he's playing tricks with the law prohibiting polls in the last week of the campaign - El Mundo's polling company have given their tracking data to The Times so that Pedro Jota can then report what "others" are saying.

Anonymous said...

worthwhile investigation, for sure. thanks!