Marjorie Brennan Wikipedia Editing Assignment

Marjorie (Margaret) Brennan

Wikipedia editing assignment

While I would occasionally use Wikipedia as a starting point for research, I would tend not to rely on it as a primary source. However, despite a perception among many that it is an unreliable source, I tend to concur with Colón-Aguirre who reports that: “Most studies have shown that its quality is not significantly worse than that available from sources that might be considered more authoritative.”

I chose to make some additions on the page of a person who, given that her work has been viewed by millions of people, and studied by countless film scholars, does not merit a huge amount of qualitative information. This is Thelma Schoonmaker, one of the top editors in the US film industry, who edited Martin Scorsese’s first feature film and all of his films since Raging Bull in 1980.  I chose Schoonmaker because I am a fan of Scorsese and she has made a significant contribution to his work. She embodies the role of an editor in the sense that the best editors do not leave any fingerprints. I am also interested in how women played a significant role as editors (cutters) in the nascent years of the film industry in the US, yet their contribution has largely been ignored in the (recorded) history of film. In the early days, “cutters” worked by hand, cranking film reels by hand and manually cutting and gluing together strips of it. After the advent of editing machines in 1920s, the process became faster and easier, but was still tedious and low-paying, which is why most cutters remained young, working-class women, who almost never received screen credit.

I am also interested in the fact that the loose collective in charge of Wikipedia is estimated to be 90% male, which is reflected in the contributions to the site. For example, in 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota and three other schools showed that articles worked on mostly by female editors—which presumably were more likely to be of interest to women—were significantly shorter than those worked on mostly by male editors or by men and women equally.

I began with the traditional approach – seeing what material was available on Schoonmaker in the library. I thought it would be less likely that such material would be found online and would be thus more valuable in terms of adding information. I could not find any standalone material on Schoonmaker as a film editor – not surprising given that one film journal article  (cited in a book on Scorsese) about her is entitled “Invisible Woman”. In contrast, I found five books on Scorsese, four of which included mentions of her in the index.

Reading about the Wiki mark-up process before I undertook any editing hindered more than helped me, and I found the learning while doing approach more useful. The interface in edit mode was quite user-friendly.  I made three new additions to the section on Schoonmaker’s career, and added a quote and an external link to more information. I hugely enjoyed the process of sourcing and reading material on Schoonmaker and plan on making more edits at a later date. The changes were still intact at the time of writing.

I found that interacting with Wikipedia rather than using it as just a source of information made me look at the process in a more critical manner. It was very enlightening to discover the whole other hinterland in which Wikipedia operates – the vast hidden hierarchical superstructure of diktats, squabbles and arcana behind the pages themselves.  It is a culture that would discourage me from participating on a larger scale. For example, the page explaining a policy called Neutral Point of View, one of “five pillars” fundamental to Wikipedia, is almost 5,000 words long. I also came across this somewhat bizarre essay on how to deal with editors from an academic background:

Following are the before and after screenshots.


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