Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales plans Wikitribune news service to combat 'fake news'

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of the popular online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, is planning a news service that combines the work of professional journalists and volunteers.

His goal is for Wikitribune to offer "factual and neutral" articles that help combat the problem of "fake news".

The service is intended to be both ad-free and free-to-read, so will rely on supporters making regular donations.

One expert told the BBC it had the potential to become a trusted site, but suggested its influence might be limited.

Wikitribune shares many of the features already found in Wales's online encyclopaedia, including the need for writers to detail the source of each fact and relying on the public to edit articles to keep them accurate.

However, while anybody can make changes to a page, they will only go live if a staff member or trusted community volunteer approves them.

The other big difference from Wikipedia is that the core team of writers will be paid, although there may also be instances in which a volunteer writes the initial draft and then a staff member edits it.

A demo version of the site, seen by sections of the media, declared "the news is broken and we can fix it".

Wales explained that he believed the advertising-based model used by most of the media had led it to "chase clicks", which affected standards.

"I think we're in a world right now where people are very concerned about making sure we have high quality fact-based information, so I think there will be demand for this," he told the BBC.

"We're getting people to sign up as monthly supporters and the more monthly supporters we have the more journalists we can hire.

"In terms of minimums, if we could only hire two journalists then it would be a blog and not really worth doing. But I would love to start with a lot more - 10 to 20."

The director of Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab, however, suggested Wikitribune's crowd-funded model might limit its potential.

"There are a variety of people who - if it does this right - will view it as a trusted platform," commented Joshua Benton. "But another 10 to 20 people are not going to 'fix the news'.

"There's certainly a model for non-profit news that can be successful if it's done on a relatively small scale and produces a product that is unique enough.

"But I have a hard time seeing this scale up into becoming a massive news organisation."

Wales said he would be "100 per cent hands-on" with the project in its early stages and would be likely to serve as Wikitribune's chief executive for at least a year.

Journalists desiring to publish on the site must link to the source of a fact or provide full transcripts and recordings of their interviews.

Other advisors to the scheme include Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki; journalism lecturer Prof Jeff Jarvis; US law professor Larry Lessig; and model / actress Lily Cole.

Although staff members will decide the topics that get written about on a day-to-day basis, funders will get to influence the contents.

"If you can get together a certain number of people who are interested in Bitcoin [for example] and you flag that when you sign up as a monthly supporter, then we'll hire a Bitcoin person to do the beat full-time," Wales explained.

"So, it's the monthly supporters who will be able to determine what are the topics we are going to cover.

"But it is going to be neutral. They can't pick their favourite hack, who pumps forward their agenda. That's part of the editorial control."