Q&A with Gregory Kohs of Akahele

Gregory Kohs is a marketing research practitioner with more than 17 years of experience in the field, mostly with research suppliers, but for the past two years with Comcast Corp. He is also an Internet junkie, blogger and gadfly, having launched three enterprises on the web since 1995 — two of them for-profit and one of them (the most recent) a non-profit called Internet Review Corporation. In this e-mail interview, Kohs discusses his latest non-profit start-up, which publishes a weekly blog called Akahele.

Q. What is the objective of Akahele?

A. Akahele.org is actually the communications arm of a registered non-profit group that I co-founded, the Internet Review Corporation. The word “akahele” means “careful” or “cautious” — the opposite of the word “wiki.” Our mission is to draw attention to unprofessional and unethical practices and content on the Internet. We strive to present complex issues to the average citizen, while deepening our commitment to values like respect for others, personal responsibility, high-quality information, attribution of work and common courtesy.

Q. How can journalists use the site?

A. We see an inordinate quantity of news and opinion stories written by journalists who seem to have affixed rose-colored glasses whenever their focus lands on an Internet-based business or personality. They eagerly sing the praises of Google, Twitter, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube, and other Web 2.0 vehicles, without seeming to take a moment’s pause to consider or identify the potentially harmful drawbacks of any of these sites. In a way, it’s ironic, because there’s a strong argument that Web 2.0 is very much killing the standards and value of traditional journalism — imagine a flu patient hammering the nails into his own coffin!

Akahele.org takes a very measured, cautious (dare I say “skeptical”?) view of the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Good journalists who wish to add an offsetting viewpoint to the “rah rah” journalism that permeates today’s mainstream are encouraged to read any of our weekly archived articles at Akahele.org. Participate in the comments field, or — better yet — submit a guest article to further explore the problems we’re facing on the Internet.

Q. You are a critic of Wikipedia. What is it about the site that bothers you the most?

A. Let me clarify. I was rather hopeful that Wikipedia could become something extremely valuable, if it were supervised and led by professionals who have the understanding, care and experience needed to manage information and scholarship. Instead, the Wikimedia Foundation that hosts Wikipedia is clearly intent on a “hands off,” “let the community decide” approach to knowledge management. The result is a haphazard, even ridiculed, end product. Indeed, it is difficult to find anyone at all on the WMF board of trustees who has any experience whatsoever in publishing quality content.

Thus, society is treated to not only “user-generated knowledge,” but also “mob mentality” resolution of any content disputes. Corrective edits are reverted by administrators who dislike the personality or tone of the editor who is actually correct about the topic. Experts are routinely driven off the project by teenagers. In so many ways, Wikipedia has become as much an online revenge platform as it is an encyclopedia, and the leadership who literally and figuratively own the servers don’t do anything to challenge this because that might be seen as interfering with “free culture.”

And that’s really my key objection to Wikipedia. What started as a project to build a useful, accurate, dependable encyclopedia has transformed into a pep rally for the “free culture movement.” If I may borrow a summary issued by my friend and independent scholar of inquiry systems, Jon Awbrey: All of that good content on Wikipedia is parasitic on prior traditions of research and scholarship that the wiki-parasite is destroying as quickly as it feeds off its host.

Q. As the traditional media struggle financially, what do you think the future holds for the standards of truth and verification in the press?

A. My view is terribly pessimistic, and it saddens me. I’m also not trained in the practice or management of journalism enterprises, so my opinion isn’t worth much here, I’m afraid. But my observation is that public relations puff pieces apparently are more effective at selling advertising than are hard-hitting investigative challenges to the status quo.

I hope and pray that there still is a market segment out there like myself, who is both tired of such repetitive regurgitation of press release content and government-issued “talking points,” who would be very willing to pay (on either a subscription or, preferably, a per-use basis of micro-payments) for the output of a journalism team that truly breaks open new stories, backed by difficult-to-obtain facts and eyewitness testimony. While I’m resigned to the conclusion that perhaps 80 percent of people won’t pay for the values of truth and verification, maybe there’s a market for it among the remaining 20 percent.


One Comment

  1. I am posting a challenge for your readers, Andy. And there is a $25 cash prize for being the first to successfully fulfill the terms of the challenge.

    It occurs to me that, other than Seth Finkelstein writing for The Guardian, I have never seen a journalist publish an original story (of at least 300 words) about Wikipedia on a national, mainstream news site (Alexa.com rank of at least the Top 3,000 sites), that did not contain at least one error of fact.

    Now, often these stories will contain what I feel to be the error of describing Jimmy Wales as “founder” of Wikipedia, rather than the correct “co-founder” label. I also find that stories will often use improper terms for events transpiring on Wikipedia (e.g., describing an “indefinite block” as a “ban”, which is actually something different). So, you can get the idea of how picky I might be in pointing out errors, but I think it is a telling body of evidence, that nearly all mainstream stories about Wikipedia botch something within the story. Is Seth Finkelstein the only writer who gets his facts right about Wikipedia?

    Somebody, please, prove me wrong! I’ll be notified via e-mail of follow-up comments here.

    Again, the ground rules:

    * Story is about Wikipedia
    * Article is 300+ words
    * Originally published on an Alexa 3,000 site
    * Not authored by Seth Finkelstein
    * Contains no factual errors

    The $25 cash prize may be paid to the first successful claimant, or to a non-profit charity of their choosing.

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