Letter to the Editor

Jake Tapley

No, Michael Mezo, I may be your journalism professor, but I am not your Santa Claus. In last week’s letter to the editor, Mezo repeatedly suggested that I tell my students to “cite” Wikipedia.

To correct the record, my actual advice for students is to become information literate and use the most appropriate sources for research. For this, I highly recommend information literacy instruction at Rice Library.

He is correct, however, in saying I assign my students to write for Wikipedia, and I do agree that this assignment is a good fit for both higher education and USI – although not for the appeal to the lowest common denominator or the crass commercialism Mezo suggests.

I assign students to write about journalists from around the world who have been killed while reporting or for their journalism. This semester we are focused on the deadliest places in the world for journalists, such as Syria, Somalia and Mexico. Each student adopts a journalist and takes responsibility for communicating that journalist’s sacrifice. In many cases, we see violations of the right to free expression, the results of working under dangerous conditions, and widespread failures of governments to bring murderers to justice. Journalists undertake such risks to serve society for truth, the public’s right to know, and for other coveted values of journalism.

In this assignment, students learn about other nations, and they must dip into a country’s history, law, politics, media, cultural and physical geography, etc. Students respect international copyright law. They will learn to avoid plagiarism in their synthesis through practice and critique. Students use a variety of writing and research skills, such as writing clear statements of significance, voice, organization, inline citation and style, etc. Students must evaluate the credibility of sources. Students become technologically proficient in a wiki environment and many are exposed to collaborative writing for the first time. They write for a real and global audience, as Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world.

This assignment fits with USI’s values of innovation, global thinking, collaboration and public outreach. Mezo need not worry about damage to USI’s reputation, for USI is in the company of Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, University of California-Berkley, Yale and Ball State – all of which have assignments through the Wikipedia Ambassadors Program. Many of us in higher education work with the Wikimedia Foundation, as we share an affinity for a mission statement that says “every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

I can assure Mezo, he will never be the author of a Wikipedia entry if he cannot meet high expectations. Most of all, Mezo, don’t put all your stock in what your former instructors or I say and don’t expect gifts. Respect facts. Acquire a well-rounded liberal arts education. Learn to think for yourself. Apply your learning in the world. Then, you may be worthy of a baccalaureate from this institution. It can start with this assignment.

Dr. Chad Tew