My first ever paid freelancing job was to write two Wikipedia pages, one a biography of a Hungarian-Australian entomologist named George Bornemissza, and the other a outline of his work on the Australian Dung Beetle Project. I was commissioned to write the pages on behalf of George’s son, Zoltan, who wanted to commemorate his father’s life and work in some small way.
Almost a year later, and I have recently been commissioned with two other Wikipedia writing projects. The first was to write a Wikipedia page about the infamous, love-em-or-hate-em Freelancer.com, and just today I uploaded a Wiki article about Father Robert Reed, Boston-based Catholic priest and director of the American CatholicTV network. Both of these projects were awarded via Freelancer.com.
Less than 24 hours after I wrote and uploaded the Father Reed article, and the Wiki geeks are already on my back. Apparently it’s frowned upon to be paid to write a Wikipedia article because it constitutes a conflict of interest. I do kind of see where they’re coming from, but my question is, if the article meets Wikipedia guidelines in terms of being non-biased, non-promotional and well sourced, does it really matter if I was paid or not? To a certain extent, I can understand why people may have some concerns over the two most recent Wikipedia offerings. As can be seen from the comments on this site, Freelancer.com clearly has a mixed reputation, and it was difficult to write an encyclopaedic entry for a company without sounding like I was trying to promote them – especially as I’d been paid to do it in the first place! However, I do think that I have succeeded in my aims and produced articles that meet Wikipedia’s stringent rules; I am rather frustrated by the dictatorial Wikipedia administration volunteers who instantly blacklist articles they don’t like, rather than providing constructive criticism and feedback to the author.
As regards the Father Reed article, this too is non-biased, makes no outlandish claims and doesn’t scream “FATHER REED IS AMAZING AND SO IS CATHOLICTV!!” I’ve never met Father Reed, nor seen CatholicTV, nor am I likely to – I was simply providing a service. Father Reed, a Catholic priest for God’s sake, hired a third party to edit the page precisely because it is against Wikipedia guidelines to write about yourself. I really don’t know what the Wikipedians have got their knickers in a twist about.
The thing that has really got my goat however, is the fact that one of my lovingly-created dung beetle articles, the biography of George Bornemissza, which has happily sat on the Wikipedia shelf for almost a year without even so much as a whisper of a comment from an admin, has now been blacklisted because I apparently have a “close relationship” with the subject. I’m really quite upset about that. Not to discount the Freelancer or Father Reed pieces, but the George Bornemissza article really was a labour of love. I spent hours poring over notes, photographs, letters and articles to create the biography and its research counterpart, the Australian Dung Beetle Project. I feel that they are valuable contributions to Wikipedia and the scientific world at large and am most offended by the rash decisions taken by overzealous Wikipedia admins.
What are your thoughts on this “conflict of interest” issue? Am I right to feel upset at the suggestion that I am underhandedly trying to promote people, businesses or scientific research by exploiting Wikipedia, or am I nothing but a cold-hearted, money-grabbing swindler who deserves to be burnt at the Wikipedia stake? Does it matter if someone is paid to author a Wikipedia article? I’d be interested to hear what the general concensus is on this, and if I’m in the wrong, I won’t ever write another word on Wikipedia. Comments please!