Rhonda LeValdo, NAJA president

What Constitutes Notability on Wikipedia? Twice Deleted Native American Journalists Association Wants to Know

Terri Hansen
4/26/11

Wikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary in January of this year.

That was the same month Wikipedia administrators deleted the entry for the Native American Journalists Association—for the second time.

Wikipedia is the popular online encyclopedia that uses the unique wiki platform—wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning fast—that any user with a basic knowledge of its language can edit.

Wikipedia lists 76 organizations under the category, “American journalism organizations.” It includes boxing, soccer and baseball writers associations. It includes the associations of Asian American journalists, black journalists, Hispanic journalists, Korean American journalists,  lesbian and gay journalists, and UNITY: Journalists of Color, of which NAJA is a member. But unlike their journalism cohorts, they’re non-existent to Wikipedia.

It’s not for a lack of effort on the part of journalists who also act as Wikipedia authors.

According to Wikipedia’s documented history on the matter, a Wikipedia administrator who goes by NawlinWiki deleted the NAJA entry in January 2010 due to what Wikipedia terms its lack of notability.

Journalists with a green light from NAJA rewrote their article, only to see it deleted a second time in January 2011 by administrators VernoWhitney and Laser brain—this time for unambiguous copyright infringement.

When the authors discovered the second pending deletion, a letter from NAJA executive director Jeff Harjo granting official permission “to post information about our organization as it appears on our website,” was sent to the administrators along with Harjo’s contact information and a request that he be contacted for verification and authorization before any deletion. But that’s not how Wikipedia works, the administrators said. NAJA vanished again.


“I just don’t understand,” said NAJA president Rhonda LeValdo. “Wikipedia is an important avenue of information.” LeValdo said she personally knows that students, academics, and non-Natives doing journalistic and communication research, and who had questions about Native American journalists once found NAJA through Wikipedia.

LeValdo said it’s tragic that Wikipedians chose to eliminate NAJA from their database because they felt the organization wasn’t significant enough. “Significant to whom,” she asked. “If you said that to us, then you’re adding to the genocide of our people by saying we don’t exist.”

According to Wikipedia editor DustFormsWords, NAJA’s well-regarded awards don’t count for much either. On a page linked to a well-known Native American journalist, DustFormsWords wrote that he found “no evidence” that NAJA’s annual reporting awards were notable.

Today there are numerous wikis, and each institutes a set of rules that govern user behavior. Here’s how Wikipedia sums up its policies and guidelines: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia; Wikipedia has a neutral point of view; Wikipedia is free content; Wikipedians should interact in a respectful and civil manner; and Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

“You have to understand, Wikipedians are passionate about the policies,” said Jay Walsh, head of communications for the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts and operates Wikipedia and other projects. It is possible, Walsh said, that people will create new articles that one or more editors may look at and say, “Well, that’s not notable.”

Walsh has little doubt that NAJA does indeed exist, and said it “just goes to show that an article can be verified but people may still question it and take it down.”

But the deliberate deletion of an entry for this particular organization of journalists “is having an impact on the study of journalism, and our place in it,” LeValdo said.

Also at conflict is that NAJA’s original article met with Walsh’s advice to: “Start small, and keep it short. What a short article says to other Wikipedians is ‘hey, help make this better.’”

The original article read, “The Native American Journalists Association, based in Norman, Oklahoma on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, focuses on improving communications among Native people and between Native Americans and the general public. The work of the association addresses Native communications and encompasses a wide range of issues affecting the survival and the development of the Native media and Native communications.”

But as NawlinWiki explained in an e-mail, “As you can see, the article does not explain how the subject asserts notability per our guidelines at WP:ORG. Also, the only source cited is the association’s own website—as a tertiary reference, we require citation to reliable independent sources, see WP:V.” The administrators capped abbreviations refer to Wikipedia policies.

The later version, writes NawlinWiki, was deleted by another administrator, “because it was copied verbatim from the association’s website, in violation of our policies against reposting copyrighted material, see WP:COPYRIGHT.”

“This is crazy,” said print and broadcast journalist Mark Trahant.

Trahant, a former NAJA president and formerly an editorial editor at the now defunct Seattle P-I said that it shows Wikipedia is not serious when it allows such nonsense to cloud its judgment. “All they need to do is look at NAJA’s role as a media organization in

the real world,” Trahant said. He noted too, that his profile on Wikipedia references NAJA.

LeValdo’s perspective is simply, “We would like to have our NAJA Wikipedia page back up.”

Walsh said now that he is aware of the matter he plans to bring it to the attention of appropriate personnel at the Wikimedia Foundation.

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jaytaber's picture
jaytaber
Submitted by jaytaber on
Wikipedia rules resulted in the removal of our investigative research network. Even though citations showed we were what we said we were, the informality of our structure, I think, was a deterrent to our acceptability by Wikipedia. Out of curiosity, I later compiled a list of citations of our work that included USC Annenberg School of Communications, Columbia University, MIT, RAND corporation, Monterey Institute of International Studies, and the US Department of Justice.
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