Rob Ford‘s 2013 began to go haywire in late March, when reports surfaced of the Toronto mayor smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. That revelation kicked off months and months of incredible and often complicated plot twists in Ford’s year, which included tales of drugs, drunken stupors, gangs, kidnapping and murder.
To research the ins and outs of this, you would have to read through 194 (and counting) articles, police reports, radio transcripts and other documents pertaining to the mayor. Or you could read the “Timeline of Rob Ford video scandal” on the mayor’s Wikipedia entry.
“It’s like a Dickens novel,” says The Four Deuces, one of the primary editors of the timeline. “It’s a complex story involving a large number of characters, high and low, centered around a mystery.”
It’s easy to read, but to create what Wikipedians call a Biography of Living Persons is much more difficult. The Four Deuces started the breakout Timeline section on June 12, a day before police stormed the west-end apartment buildings in a pre-dawn drug raid and recovered a video of the mayor smoking crack.
Before that, there were many editors contributing articles about Rob Ford, but none had taken that step.
Among those who’ve edited Ford’s page since its creation in 2005, writing about his controversies has been delicate territory. In Toronto, the unspoken consensus was not to create a separate page for Ford’s extracurricular activities unless they became too substantial to fit on the page. One benchmark was whether the Ford misdeeds could rival that of Kwame Kilpatrick, the former Detroit mayor incarcerated on corruption charges.
“The talk pages behind the Rob Ford article detail the extended discussions we had about that,” says Alex Lainey, or Alaney2k on Wikipedia. “It was a good idea to put the crack video scandal in its own timeline article. I supported that and kept that article going during the time period after Ford’s denials and the Toronto Police revealing the video did exist.”
The debates on the talk pages were the same going on all over Toronto. For months, it was a they said/they said battle between media outlets – mostly Gawker and the Toronto Star – and Rob Ford and his councillor brother Doug. The media kept pushing the matter of the crack tape, the Fords kept denying it. Who you believed in the war of truths often came down to where your political sympathies lay.
On Wikipedia, editing all this back-and-forth is next to impossible. So the near 200 references for the one article is deliberate.
“The various newspapers in Toronto have different opinions and relationships with Rob Ford,” says Lainey. “So the sources of the article are as widespread as feasible.”
Another part of the challenge for Wikipedians was keeping track of what was notable, and what was not.
For instance, Slurpy, a Rob Ford lookalike who was being goaded into creating a phony crack video to fool the press, is referenced on the page, while the Steak Queen, a restaurant police say the mayor ate at frequently while inebriated, was not.
(One bit of trivia that made the page: it is not well known that the radio station NewsTalk 1010 – the station the Fords had a weekly radio show on – had considered buying the crack tape at the same time as Gawker and the Toronto Star. “It was important to note that,” argues Lainey.)
Of course, like any Biography of Living Persons entry, the history of Toronto’s mayor is still being written. On January 2, 2014, Ford officially declared his candidacy for re-election, possibly lengthening his mayoralty and his Wikipedia entry.
Already Ford’s page, like his tenure as Toronto mayor, is quite exceptional. The main article and the timeline combined have been viewed more than a million times in since October 31, with edits coming in almost daily. With the attention being paid to it, each edit becomes all the more important.
“It’s a bit scary,” says Lainey. “Sometimes I read a newspaper story or watch a TV report or comedic skit, and I can tell that they have skimmed this article for information.”
This article has been submitted by Joshua Errett, an active Wikipedian. The observations made in the post do not represent an explicit opinion of Rob Ford, but instead illustrate the nature of Wikipedia in relation to breaking and headline news.