Q&A with Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and WikiTribune

Jimmy Wales may have created the world’s fifth most visited site, but the Wikipedia founder still sees himself as an entrepreneur. “It’s in my nature,” he said in an interview with Creator Magazine. “I wake up every day and I want to do the most interesting thing I can.”
Besides Wikipedia, Wales started Wikia, a for-profit platform for fan groups, in 2004. Looking at the current era of clickbait and fake news, he realized he had more work to do, and WikiTribune began.
WikiTribune will be a transparent news platform that welcomes readers to check the sources for themselves. And, bearing the “wiki” moniker, it will draw from a community of editors (similar to the commited corps of editors on Wikipedia), who will work alongside journalists.
Co-founded by Wales and human rights lawyer Orit Kopel, WikiTribune was named a London Creator Awards finalist in September and is preparing for a content launch later this year. Wales took time to share with the Creator community at bit more about his vision for Wikipeda, the “bad business decisions” that have defined his career, and where he gets his entrepreneurial spirit.
You’re looking for funding for WikiTribune in creative ways, such as the Creator Awards. How else are you going to fund this project?
We’re launching using no advertising and no paywall. Readers will support the journalist. It’s a bad business decision, but that’s how I’ve built my career so far.
It’s still in the early days, but so far we’ve launched with a crowdfunding campaign. We’re also maintaining a low-cost model. [WikiTribune] will be digital only. Not having the overhead of advertising sales operations is important. And as much as possible, people will work remotely. We’ll go with really flexible office arrangements in London rather than one big office. (Editor’s note: The team worked out of WeWork Paddington Station for a duration.)
“It’s a bad business decision, but that’s how I’ve built my career so far.
What kind of stories will your team tackle?
With 10 journalists, you can’t compete head to head with the New York Times, the Guardian, or the Washington Post. We think our business model drives us in a certain direction. It pushes us away from same stories everyone else is doing and more toward long-form, deeper content—the type of stories people can really engage with. When someone reads to the bottom of an article, they need to find it informative and think, “I support this. This is the kind of world I need to live in.”
What format will you go with—text, video, a blend?
Because we’re working with volunteer editors, it’s easier to collaborate on text than on video. One of our precepts is evidence-based journalism, which means we want to publish transcripts of all interviews and link to all sources. That does lead to a fair amount of video and audio content, in terms of supportive items.
[One of the driving factors behind the move to video journalism is that] the ad rates for video are much higher. Frankly, I think people would rather read the news.
Who have you been most excited to bring onto your team so far?
Peter Bale is the launch editor. He’s formerly a (Reuters journalist and) CEO of the Center for Public Integrity, and just very experienced and lovely. The team has a lot of young journalists, so he’ll be a fantastic coach to them and help everyone raise the bar.
Given your experience as an entrepreneur, what’s your expected timeline for WikiTribune?
We’ll quietly launch in stages. So far, we are not yet launched in terms of publishing to the public. That’s later this month. We’ll be in as many languages as possible. But it will take 10 years before it’s really fully mature. Things can grow quickly, but when you’re starting from a base of zero, [it’s challenging]. A lot of entrepreneurs have unrealistic expectations of short time frames.
“I don’t think journalism under the patronage of billionaires is a model that over the long-term is great.”
What model can support honest journalism? Do you see Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post as a negative or positive development?
I’m actually really happy about that. I’m happy Jeff Bezos is supporting journalism, but I don’t think journalism under the patronage of billionaires is a model that over the long-term is great. I’m more excited about things like the New York Times seeing digital subscriptions jump from 1 million to 1.8 million in a short time. That tells me the public is ready to pay money to support journalism.
Where do you get your news?
I’m very eclectic—my starting point is Google News because they have a lot of different sources.
When did you first sense that you had an entrepreneurial spirit?
My family was always very entrepreneurial. My uncle had a music store then computer store. My mother started a daycare center. My grandmother started a music school. There’s always been a passion for starting your own thing in my family. I never had pressure to get a job at a big company.
So, are you hiring?
I’m always looking for software developers. Really good developers are like artists.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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