King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Down with self-referential navel gazing! Or, Wikipedia and me, Part 2. And did I mention me?


Salon Staff
August 11, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

You're going to think this is disingenuous, but it's true: When I wrote Thursday that my Wikipedia entry was one-sentence long and nominated for deletion because of my "non-notable" status, it never occurred to me that doing so would cause people to go beef up the entry and turn it into a real biographical article.

That's because I'm dumb. I wanted to show you something funny, and by pointing it out, I caused the funny part to disappear. Now the funny part is that if I were devious, self-serving and narcissistic -- I mean more devious etc. -- the exact same thing would have happened.

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I didn't create the item, didn't ask anyone else to create it and have never touched it, and I think with enough Wikipedia savvy you can look at this list of who's edited the article and figure out that none of them are me. But feel free to think of me as devious, self-serving and narcissistic because that's more fun, and if you're not having fun here, you're not coming back.

Unlike some places, it's all about the customers at King Kaufman's Sports Daily.

I have to admit that while my pathetic entry was funnier, it's pretty cool to be in the people's encyclopedia for real, and it was a lot of fun to keep reloading the page Thursday afternoon and watching the article get written, rewritten, edited and reedited.

Here's what happened: I got turned down for an interview request simply because I work for an online magazine. We online journalists run into this sort of thing from time to time. Whenever I do, I try to politely make the argument that Salon is a legitimate news-gathering organization with a large circulation, a congressional press credential and so on and so forth.

I haven't had to do this for a while so I went searching for some updated info to back up my case. I found the Salon entry on Wikipedia, and was surprised to find my name not just listed, but linked. I had looked to see if there was a King Kaufman Wikipedia entry in the past, and of course there hadn't been, because I am not notable.

So, figuring that some words and phrases are linked automatically, I guessed that the "King Kaufman" link would point either to Matthew "King" Kaufman, a record producer who founded the '80s indie label Beserkley Records -- Jonathan Richman, Greg Kihn -- or to filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman, who co-founded Troma Entertainment after making the movie "The Toxic Avenger." There's a documentary about him called "King Kaufman: The Passion of Lloyd."

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But I found that one-sentence entry about me, laughed, and wrote a short item about it.

And of course within minutes it started getting updated, filled out. False information came and went. New factoids emerged. I'm from Los Angeles, it turns out. (True.) I once wrote that second base should be eliminated. (False.) Soon the deletion notice went away. Saved! The wisdom of crowds!

Soon there was a notation in the item that I'd written a column on Aug. 10, 2006, bemoaning the fact that my item might be deleted. Whoa, feedback loop! That was removed in short order as a "navel-gazing reference to Wikipedia."

Yeah, I hate navel-gazing self-reference, don't you?

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And I suppose now someone's going to add a sentence to Wikipedia about this column's mention of that Wikipedia reference to my original column. And that'll be removed too. As we used to say in the dot-com days: That's meta.

At one point, someone wrote a note in this column's comments section asking for a link to the column where I lobbied for the removal of second base. I replied that I'd never written that or that NBA players' shorts should be no longer than the ones Bill Walton used to wear, another erroneous claim in the entry. They can wear clamdiggers, for all I care.

Moments later, those two errors had been removed. It was like driving a remote-control car. As of Friday morning, the latest update to my entry is the inclusion of my caricature.

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I have to say, the Wikipedia article is a pretty good little thumbnail sketch of me. It's not the one I would have written, but then, an autobiographical thumbnail sketch is no more reliably accurate than one written by others, and probably less so.

It's interesting to see what gets left out. But I'll keep it interesting to me only, or someone will just add it.

We're familiar around here with the wisdom of the masses, which is Wikipedia's currency. We see it in the way the users of a large Web site, usually Yahoo, beat most experts in picking the winners of NFL and NCAA Tournament games.

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I can see it in the semi-wiki nature of my own column, in which the smallest mistake will almost always get pointed out within minutes of publication by a reader, either in the letters section or an e-mail to me. I always say the readers of this column are the best editors in the business.

Wikipedia sometimes gets hammered for its openness and lack of top-down accountability. The New York Times last year instructed its reporters not to rely on it to check facts. That was after a prankster posted an article about veteran journalist and former Robert Kennedy aide John Seigenthaler Sr. saying he'd been involved in both Kennedy assassinations.

The counterargument is that the Seigenthaler hoax was eventually found and fixed. The system worked. But with articles about less prominent people, things or ideas, the odds of someone spotting an error go down.

I use Wikipedia to check facts sometimes, but only big facts. Who's Andrew Jackson again? Oh, yeah, he was president. But I don't trust it on its own for smaller details.

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But it's not like the Internet or Wikipedia has forced us to develop this new thing called skepticism. I had a little thumbnail reference bio written about me once before. It was in one of those "Who's Who in ..." books. American journalism maybe. I don't even remember.

Who I was was someone who had worked for a college radio station and a small local newspaper. I was about 24. But I got a form in the mail asking me to provide biographical information. So I did. I mentioned that I'd been the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1974 -- at age 11 -- and that my book "What I Had for Breakfast Every Day Last Year: A Gastronomic Diary" had won the Pulitzer Prize.

I was married to the former Wilma Betty Stone and had put in a stint as the bait master for Biff's Tuna Fleet.

These facts were carefully vetted in the form of a letter I'd get every few weeks with a printout of my bio and an invitation to send in corrections. Nope, I'd write back, looks good to me. As far as I know, the book really came out, with that bio in it. I was invited to buy a copy for something like 200 late-'80s dollars.

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As you can see, I've been not non-notable for a long time.

I missed it at first, but Salon writer Farhad Manjoo pointed out the discussion page, where there was a debate about my "non-notable" status.

If someone's notable enough for there to be a debate about whether he's non-notable, doesn't that answer the question? I don't know, the question gives me a headache, and happily it was quickly decided that I am at least as deserving of a Wikipedia entry as Farhad Manjoo, not to mention Salonistas Cary Tennis, Patrick Smith and Joe Conason, which is a compliment.

Previous column: Maurice Clarett

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