Watching a news story unfold on Wikipedia

The English football sexual abuse scandal is being extensively covered in newspapers and on TV and radio. It is also being captured in Wikipedia articles; articles about organisations or individuals involved are being widely read. Wikipedia statistics can help indicate interest in a subject, but care is needed in editing articles relating to an ongoing news story.

It’s now more than two weeks since the English football sexual abuse scandal [Wikipedia article] first started to evolve following allegations made by former Crewe Alexandra players. As a Crewe fan and PR professional, it was painful to watch the club I support say too little too late (see my previous post), and to see Crewe in the eye of the media storm last Saturday when I went to Colchester (and saw the Alex lose 4-0 – yes, we have problems on the pitch as well as off it!). There were ITN vehicles outside the ground, cameras filming Crewe fans as we walked up to the turnstiles, and photographers training their lenses on Crewe chairman John Bowler in the directors box.

However, as the scandal has expanded and embraced more clubs, Crewe has started to drop from prominence, with allegations centred on big city clubs including Newcastle United and Chelsea, among others, taking the limelight. I sometimes use Wikipedia statistics to gauge interest in breaking or ongoing news stories. For example, here is the last 90 days of page views of the Crewe Alexandra article on the English edition of Wikipedia:

Crewe Alexandra page view on Wikipedia

It is possible to discern a small uptick in page views around 17 November (the day after Andy Woodward first went public), but it shot up the following week (after more players waived their anonymity and made similar allegations), peaking at around five times the normal daily levels.

Wikipedia’s statistical tools also let you track page views of multiple subjects. For months, the pages of three former Crewe players (Woodward, Steve Walters and Anthony Hughes) rarely got more than 10 page views/day, while the daily average for former Crewe manager Dario Gradi was c.104 throughout September and October 2016. When the players went public with their allegations, views of their pages immediately rocketed (the 25 November peaks coincided with BBC2 appearances by Woodward and Walters), as did views of the Dario Gradi page.

Crewe people - Wikipedia page views

Biographies of Living People

Wikipedians take special care over articles about living people (BLPs), and, as I contributed to some of the articles relating to the scandal, I noted a couple of things:

  • Care is needed to ensure articles relate to the correct person. For example, Wikipedia already had an article about a footballer called Derek Bell (ex Halifax Town and Lincoln City), but not the Derek Bell alleging abuse at Newcastle United. A new article was quickly added about the latter, though his contemporary enjoyed a day in the Wikipedia spotlight, vaulting from single figure page views to almost 5,000. A short ‘headnote’ added at the top of each article also helped point readers in the right direction (avoiding four other Derek Bells).
  • The Wikipedia article about Andy Woodward was repeatedly edited by an anonymous editor to remove a sentence and supporting Guardian newspaper reference about Woodward’s recent dismissal from Lancashire police for gross misconduct. An ‘edit war’ ensued as other editors repeatedly reinstated the information, with the page being semi-protected for a few days to stop further anonymous edits. Wikipedians aim to ensure articles are accurate, balanced and impartial (read WP:NPOV).
  • Tabloid newspaper coverage is often quickly edited out of Wikipedia BLPs and related articles repeating information about the individuals concerned. BLP editing pages warn: “Take extra care to use high-quality sources. Material about living persons should not be added when the only sourcing is tabloid journalism.

Hold the front page

Update (12 December 2016) – The football sexual abuse scandal has continued to expand, and no longer relates solely to England. Last week, police forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland became involved, and Wikipedia editors quickly decided to rename the article: United Kingdom football sexual abuse scandal. Almost simultaneously, a link to the article was added to the home page of the English edition of Wikipedia (under ‘Ongoing’ in “In the News”). The impact was almost immediate – almost doubling page views:


The ‘English’ article now redirects traffic to the main ‘UK’ one (which is why the ‘English’ one hasn’t disappeared). By the way, yesterday’s FA announcement that it had suspended Crewe’s Dario Gradi clearly prompted a lot of interest in the Wikipedia article about him.

[Disclosure: I am a Crewe Alexandra supporter, I started the Wikipedia article on the sexual abuse scandal, and have edited other articles relating to it – see my contributions.]

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