Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia and lazy journalists

“They were always lazy, now they’re just a little better informed.”

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the birth of Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopaedia launched as an experiment on 15 January 2001 and now hosting 17 million pages across 271 languages.

Yesterday, I spent most of my day in the company of Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, as he spoke at the Bristol Festival of Ideas (his only public outing of this visit) and then on the journey back to London, where he hosted a party to thank the army of British Wikipedia volunteers, under the umbrella of Wikimedia UK.

Before talking to Wales I did the social (media) thing and canvassed for questions via Twitter. My favourite came from The Media Blog's Will Sturgeon, a former colleague.

So I asked Wales: do you feel guilty about breeding a generation of lazy journalists? His answer:

I think they were always lazy, now they're just a little better informed [laughs].

No, actually I think oftentimes journalists who are lazy and using Wikipedia get caught out; and there are lots more journalists who understand how to use Wikipedia correctly. [As a journalist] you go out to interview the head of a company, or a certain politician and you don't know much about them. So this way you can quickly get some background and, also, read the discussion pages to find out what are the things the public don't quite know.

During the rest of our interview – conducted mainly on the 14.30 from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington (carriage D) – he talked about a broad range of subjects, from the neutrality of Wikipedia and internet censorship, to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, to David Cameron and the "big society", to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He also offered a fascinating answer when I asked him whether he votes.

The interview will form part of a piece for a future issue of the New Statesman.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.