Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wikipedia, you are not my friend

Coach Lee Hedges
     If you are familiar with Wikipedia -- which bills itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" -- you know it is a quick online source of information. Reliable? It depends.
    Can anyone edit it? Yes ... if you know what you're doing. That does not necessarily include me.
    As I informed people last week through my Facebook post and e-mail note, there is now a new Wikipedia page on Lee Hedges, a coaching icon in Shreveport and in Louisiana. I can assure you it is accurate.
    I created the page -- my first Wikipedia creation -- because my good friend Casey, who obviously has little to do other than a regular job, noticed there wasn't a page for our high school head coach who is also our favorite coach.
    Casey asked/suggested that I put together the page because he knows I have nothing else to do.
    But I was happy to do it because (1) I'm pretty familiar with Lee Hedges' career and (2) the man is a treasure who would be on most anyone's list of "most admirable" people in Shreveport-Bossier.
    Great subject matter. However, doing the page -- figuring out Wikipedia -- was a pain. I could be more explicit, but take my word. A pain.
    Especially a pain if you are technologically challenged, or just clueless. Computers, phones, TVs and remotes ... hey, I'm trying, but I don't always get there.
    Formatting Wikipedia, though ... help!
    I did not do well in high school geometry or chemistry, struggled in biology. Physics was out of the question, but not as much as trigonometry or calculus (even had to look up how to spell those). These are not sportswriter subjects. 
    But Wikipedia stumped me as much as any of those. You want to be confused? Look up how to create a Wikipedia page, how to format it, how to -- oh, please -- add photos. 
    It might as well have been hieroglyphics or Greek or Arabic to me. It is not, in my opinion, user-friendly.
    There is a Lee Hedges page because I did muddle through some of it, and -- thankfully -- got some help. Here is your link:
    It wasn't my first Wikipedia experience. A few years ago I was notified that a page had been created for my mother, Rose Van Thyn. When I first saw it, I noticed a few facts that needed correcting or enhancing, so I did manage to go in and edit those items.
     That wasn't all that difficult, as I remember. But creating a page ...
     Until Monday, because of neglect and/or ignorance, I never knew who created Mom's page. Looking at the Lee Hedges page, I noticed a "history" tab and clicked on it. It's a history of how the page was created and any changes that were made.
      Remember this name: Billy Hathorn. He created the Rose Van Thyn page and many others, and when I sent him a note, he bailed me out on the Lee Hedges page.
      Billy is 67, a year younger than me, and lives in Laredo, Texas. He grew up in Minden, La., attended Minden High and Louisiana Tech University, and after a few years in the newspaper business, he was smart enough to turn to teaching for a couple of decades. 
       Doing Wikipedia pages is one of his hobbies, and he has created a bunch relating to people and subject with North Louisiana ties. I know my family is grateful to him for Mom's page, and I'm sure many others are grateful for pages dear to them.
       I have gone to many Wikipedia pages for quick information, when I was working at the Fort Worth newspaper and now as I write these blog pieces. Some pages are very accurate and thorough; some leaves gaps -- some of them large gaps. (I am not picking on Billy here; this is a general observation.)
       What I can tell you: At the Fort Worth paper, we had orders -- DO NOT rely on Wikipedia as a credible source to double-check facts in stories. (OK, so we cheated and sometimes used Wikipedia anyway.)
       Bottom line for me: It's useful. And if you want information on Lee Hedges, it's there ... for now. I suppose there is a chance Wikipedia editors -- whoever they are -- could change the page or delete it. I hope not.
      Here is the process for me: I spent 2-3 days compiling the information I wanted to share, using several sources -- most notably, a story by Jason Pugh (The Times in Shreveport) that is Coach Hedges' sketch on the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame web site;  chapters from Jerry Byrd's Football Country, published in 1981; Coach's year-by-year records compiled by The Times statistician guru Lee Hiller; and my personal knowledge of the man.
      Polished the material into story form, tried (and I stress, tried) to follow the Wikipedia format and offered it to "Articles for Creation" on May 15.
      And then waited, and wondered.
      Nine days later an editor -- FoCuSandLeArN -- posted a note saying that the subject seemed to worthy of a page, but that the article didn't follow the biographical style of Wikipedia and needed "cleaning up."
      To which, I replied -- not modestly -- that I've been writing articles for newspapers for 40 years and I don't mind being edited or making changes, but can you tell me exactly what "cleaning up" means? 
      I never heard back directly, and I didn't know how to check the history, but now I do and I found that FoCuSandLeArN did some cleaning up, and took out segments that I had used from Jerry Byrd's book. That's fine.
      Again, a silent period, and then 3 1/2 weeks later, on June 18, "Calliopejen1" sent this message: "Lee Hedges, which you submitted to Articles for Creation, has been created."       
       All right. 
       Next task: Inserting photos into the sketch. Again, a complication process because Wikipedia it seems has very tough copyright standards. I submitted three photos (all of which are on the Internet) through an "upload wizard."
The Lee Hedges LSU running back photo from
about 1950 that you won't see on Wikipedia.
       In about 10 minutes, "1989" left me a message that the early 1950s photo of Lee Hedges as a running back at LSU "has been marked as a possible copyright violation" and likely was to be deleted. 
       Because that photo is 65 years old and a publicity shot -- common in those days and for probably 50 years at every college of note -- I doubt it would be considered a copyright violation by anyone with any sense.
       Nevertheless, Billy Hathorn explained to me how difficult Wikipedia can be on photo use and he found a couple -- one of Mrs. Hedges -- that are on the page now. I'm hoping to find a Woodlawn yearbook photo of Coach; Billy said yearbook photos from before 1978 are public domain. So we'll keep trying.
       Billy also cleaned up the Hedges page, added some significant information, and linked the page to other Wikipedia pages.
       One other significant twist -- at the top of the Lee Hedges page is a note: "This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. See Wikipedia's guide to writing better articles for suggestions." 
       Guess I'm not as good as I thought.
       My friend Tom Marshall liked that. He sent a note saying, "I think you need to work on your 'encyclopedic tone' a bit. In a subsequent exchange, he said, "... The annotation seemed so asinine that I couldn't resist."
       If I knew what "encyclopedic tone" meant, I would fix it. If I knew what annotation meant, I probably would agree.
       Anyway, I have done a Wikipedia page, and I've had several people suggest that I do some more. And I'm answering, that ain't gonna happen. I've done my one, and it's a painful process. (Have I been clear enough about that?)


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