Wikipedia, whose 21 billion hits a month makes it the fifth most popular website, drew 300 to a conference in New York this weekend. PR people are grappling with WP’s huge, autocratic and anonymous panel of editors.

wikipedia event
Lila Tretikov

"WP is on the first page of search results for nearly every company, brand, product, personality, capital-of-industry, etc.," and that this puts a "great level of responsibility" on it, says Phil Gomes, senior VP of Edelman Digital, Chicago, who has been working for years to win a bigger place for PR at WP’s table.

WP notes that, "To the consternation of many teachers, it is the first port of call for millions of students from primary school to university. Its sheer convenience is challenging standard pedagogical approaches that implicitly assume information is scarce and difficult to duplicate."

Revenues up 46% to $39M; New Xdir

Revenues of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the WP website, spurted 46% to $39.7 million in the year ended June 30, 2012, the latest year available. Net assets rose 44% to $34.9M from $24.1M. Assets include cash/savings of $16M; land/buildings worth $5.1M and investments worth $3.6M.

Lila Tretikov, 36, a native of Russia who specializes in enterprise software, on May 1 was named to succeed Sue Gardner as executive director. She started her career at Sun Microsystems and most recently was at SugarCRM as Chief information Officer and VP.

The search took nearly a year, according to the wikipedian website operated by William Beutler, who was the organizer of a panel May 30 discussed "How the PR industry views Wikipedia." He is president of Beutler Ink, Washington, D.C., a content marketing firm. His firm helps clients to adhere to WP’s elaborate Manual of Style and provides “thorough research and quality copywriting.”

Beutler’s website said that Tretikov has a “solid resume in open source projects but exactly zero with the open source project that matters most, Wikipedia.”

He said the Foundation wanted “a new leader from outside the movement” but Wikipedians were disappointed to learn that Tretikov’s partner, San Francisco Bay Area PHP programmer Wil Sinclair joined Wikipediocracy. It is a forum for exchange of views between WP editors, administrators, critics, proponents and the public. A major contributor is Gregory Kohs, who helps clients to place articles and comments on WP.

One section of mywikibiz.com is titled, "Top 10 Reasons Not to Donate to Wikipedia." 

Kohs has been critical of pay packages of Wiki Foundation executives. Gardner’s package totaled $219,980 in the year to June 30, 2012. Barry Newstead, chief global development officers, received $212,018; Zack Exley, chief revenue officer, $209,163, and Veronique Kessley, CFO, received $196,027. Packages of eight executives totaled $1,405,225.

wikipedia eventL-R: William Beutler and Michael Bassik on right.
Photo: Sharlene Spingler

Another panelist discussing WP and PR May 30 at New York Law School was Michael Bassik, who has been chair of the U.S. digital practice of Burson-Marsteller and CEO of Professional Integrated Communications, a WPP unit. He is joining MDC Partners, whose properties include Allison + Partners, Kwittken + Company Worldwide and Sloane & Co. A third panelist was Andrew Lih of American University.

Possible Turning Point for WP and PR

Beutler told an audience of about 30 that he thinks "WP and PR are potentially at a turning point."

He described a meeting in Washington, D.C., in February that hosted digital experts from "several of the largest PR and marketing firms along with WP editors and community observers.”

“It was a very enlightening and productive conversation with both sides evaluating where their goals and interests can work together,” he said, adding, “Contrary to the belief of many, there is a significant overlap and the conversation went very well.” Further plans including continuing the conversation on how PR and WP can work together better, he said.

He cautioned he had nothing new to announce at the moment.

Big Wiki Confab in London

More than 2,000 Wikipedians are expected at Wikimania, a "festival, unconference, meetup, workshop, hackathon and party" that will run from Aug. 6-10 at the Barbican Centre, London, Europe’s largest performing arts center.  The general public is invited.

PR and WP Have Battled

WP co-founder Jimmy Wales has long opposed entries and edits by people who are being paid to do so. WP favors materials that have appeared in “reliable” media. It does not allow direct input by involved parties.

Beutler has been a participant in Corporate Representatives for Ethical WP Engagement (CREWE) which has been trying to bridge the gap between PR and WP.

Wales in 2012 said that PR people and others paid to contribute to WP should be "completely restricted from making edits in article space.”

WP has a “Talk Page” where contributors can propose corrections or place new items. WP editors then decide whether the material can go on WP proper.

Many Entries Derelict—Gomes

"Many entries are derelict, even for important topics and well-known industry bellwethers," said Gomes, one of the founders of CREWE. "Financial data is often years old. Some companies are described as remaining in businesses long divested."

He said attempts to deal with WP editors on Talk Pages “often go ignored for very long periods while inaccurate information persists.”

WP has 1,800 words on PR Society of America that says the Society is governed by a Leadership Assembly that consists of delegates representing its membership, a board of directors and various committees and task forces.”

However, the Assembly is regularly told never to issue orders to the board. An attempt in 2006 to model governance after that of the American Medical Assn. and American Bar Assn., whose houses of delegates control their boards, was defeated.

Another claim is that members who violate the Code of Ethics “may have their membership revoked.” The Society in 1999 cancelled the part of its Code that had a disciplinary process. The Society now only takes action against a member after he or she has been censured by a court or government body.

WP’s Entries on PR Are Light and Non-Existent

The WP essay touches lightly on the Society’s practice from 1978-94 of selling copies of articles and entire chapters of books without the permission of the authors.Packet volume hit 3,400 yearly by the early 1990s, providing yearly profits of about $60,000.

Three offenses were involved: copying and selling an article in the first place; combining it with other articles to make a new work, and the fact that money-generating and money-saving ideas were involved (“professional development”).

WP uses the Society’s description of the practice, which was that the Society was only “lending” the articles and this was "fair use." The Authors Guild branded both arguments as "absurd." Members were charged $21 and non-members, $55 for packets of 60-120 pages. No lending library levies such charges. In any case, it is forbidden to combine articles from many different sources and sell them. There is a reference to the 1977 Federal Trade Commission consent decree that the Society was forced to sign. It had operated from 1954-1977 with a Code of Ethics that made the Society a "combination in restraint of trade" by blocking members from pitching each others accounts or charging on a contingency basis.

There is no WP entry for PR Seminar, the group of about 150 corporate and PR firm executives that is meeting June 1-4 at the Ballantyne resort in Charlotte, N.C.

There is also no entry for the Council of PR Firms, the organization of 110 PR firms including many of the PR operations of advertising/PR conglomerates.

The Arthur W. Page Society is only recognized as a group named after the first VP and PR director of AT&T from 1927-47. The only details provided are that there is an Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communications at Pennsylvania State University and that the Page Society sponsors an annual Corporate Communications Case Study Competition.