User:Brian McNeil/Request for Foundation assistance
One of the most valuable aspects of attending Wikimania is the opportunity to meet people who you may only have interacted with by email. Craig Spurrier and I had a two-hour meeting with Jay Walsh, Sue Gardner, and Michael Snow - the new chair of the board of trustees. This was a very productive meeting, and the closing comments were that Sue is very interested in seeing efforts to improve Wikinews. A trialled budget amount is to be set up for sister projects (i.e. everything but Wikipedia) to allow these other projects to raise their profiles, recruit new contributors, and improve the experience of site visitors.
As a former journalist, Sue was able to offer some insight into the workings of a traditional newsroom. They have a far more rigid structure, and a clearly defined workflow from reporter to publication; from there the article goes to someone who takes the decision which articles occupy lead positions. Such a strict method of working is fine when people are working on a full-time basis and paid to do so. Fact-checking is a thankless task, and Sue highlighted that there have been failures of this on Wikinews; articles have been published and gone into the archive with inaccuracies, such sloppy journalism will not help improve our credibility and gain us wider access to embargoed material and things like government press releases.
Next up is the fact that our coverage is very patchy, but development of most articles has to run at a rapid pace to maintain relevancy. It is fine for a Wikipedia article to remain inaccurate for a few weeks, but on Wikinews it should be no more than a few hours.
Inability to work with Journalism Schools
The lack of a well-defined workflow means we are highly unlikely to get any professor of journalism to involve himself and his students in the creation of content for Wikinews. This topic has been raised in the past, and it is really only about now that such institutions are taking an interest in Web 2.0/new media. That said, without a clear structure to work within, such people will dismiss us as no more reliable than a blog. Their students will continue to be assigned to work on the school/college newspaper where the rigid structure is in place.
In the aforementioned traditional newsroom, the journalist will submit their story, it will be fact-checked, copyedited - possibly more than once, and finally moved to a ready state prior to publication. Once published, it enters a pool of stories that can be used to draw the lead items from. Each of these steps in the process will be the responsibility of one or more individuals with little overlap to preceding or following stages.
Items raised by Wikinews
We've nearly discussed this to death, and personally I have come to the conclusion that certain contributors are to be ignored for their ideological and zealous opposition to this. Sue is fully in favour of us having such a wiki, although "embargoed" may not be the correct name. Where we disagreed was on the content; Sue would move prepared obituaries into such a wiki which is somewhat problematic if we want many people able to contribute to such preparatory work. The general consensus from the Wikinews perspective is that it should only be for particularly sensitive material, generally where there is a requirement to respect a source's wishes and defer reporting publicly until a specific date. There was complete agreement that respect of a source's wishes is key to forging good relationships and getting information from people. Yes, even if we may be aiding them in publicising an issue or topic by doing so.
There is a little under a year left to run on the Wikinewsie domain. Some of the ways in which Godaddy services operate are problematic. For example, the webmail does not work in Opera. I floated the idea of transferring the domain to the Foundation and getting a little shared space somewhere for our specific needs - blogging, email, online credential verification, and anything else we can come up with (brainstorm on talk page).
Clearly, in such a situation the Foundation must maintain its hands-off 'we are the ISP' stance. This means Wikinews contributors will have to manage the whole thing. This is a drawback in getting people to do these jobs, but there is a big upside. We will be able to run mailing lists instead of the poor man's equivalent currently in use for firstname.lastname@example.org. This is unprofessional in that those who never check their mail and now have full mailboxes generate bounce messages that go back to the person contacting us.
Recruitment and retention
This is a perennial problem. The suggestion to have Wikinews brochures and training material was welcomed, this was where Sue explained a volunteer-managed budget is likely to be made available. Requests for access to funds from this will be ad-hoc, but the material to be printed has to be written. Later on I discussed our meeting with Cormac Lawler of Wikiversity. This was also of great interest to him, and there is a potential to have each of the sister projects have leaflets/brochures which are distributed to attendees of Chapter meetings and other events.
Retention is slightly more complex, we need to identify people who abandon the project fairly soon after they do so and find out what causes them to do so. From there we may can formulate measures to make the project more welcoming and accessible.
Recruitment needs to be expanded outside the Wikimedia community, this may involve the design of large posters and smaller fliers. The obvious low-hanging fruit here is college and university noticeboards. Sue commented that within North America, and many other countries, local newspapers are dying off and being closed. The community loses a voice that covers local events and there is nothing to replace it. If we can find some way to break into that area and promote Wikinews as a platform for local citizens to cover local events we will greatly increase contributions. If more locally oriented versions of the print edition become possible then such contributors can work with local businesses to provide a hardcopy version that is supported by limited advertising this will snowball. Obviously, there will be an issue with ultra-local news not going on the main page and more people required to sift through this and promote stories. From my perspective, when you get right down to it this is turning Wikinews into a one-stop-shop for publishing or reading all your local news. The fact that every single print edition I ran off vanished is an indication that - even among Wikimedians - there is still a desire to have news in the printed form.
For a long, long time the contributors on Wikinews have sought to have the site listed in Google's news aggregator. Time and time again we have been turned down because it is a wiki where anyone can edit. This is particularly frustrating where bottom-of-the-barrel blogs such as ValleyWag get listed. We do try to be professional and respectable, but the argument from Google is we have no editorial control process.
When FlaggedRevs was first talked about, we were desperate to get it implemented to try and get round this. Now that it is being successfully piloted on de.WP, any project can hold a vote and where there is consensus submit a bugzilla request to have it put in place. We could do that today, and the devs would likely implement it.
However, having attended the Wikimania session on FlaggedRevs and looked at some of the issues surrounding how Wikinews operates, Craig was quick to point out that the extension is not ready for Wikinews. Or, possibly more accurate, existing extensions we use are not set up to work with it. Wikinews works with DPL (Dynamic Page Lists), and we want a MediaWiki extension for RSS feeds. As it stands, neither of these extensions knows anything about FlaggedRevs. So, while it might be the case that clicking on a link to an article would give you the latest flagged version, a DPL list of all articles for today in use on the front page would not know that, despite being published, the story "Man bites dog" did not have a single flagged revision and thus should not be shown.
So, Wikinews needs to clarify how such extensions should work with FlaggedRevs. There are other issues with the beta RSS extension - primarily having code quality that Brion will accept on a MediaWiki server, so the whole thing - the three extensions - need looked at with a critical eye on how they can be made to interact and serve our needs. With Sue on our side this may be a matter of getting Brion to update DPL to suit our purposes. From my perspective, RSS is lower priority - the extension can be tightened up to meet his high standards, and if the WMF developers do the work to make DPL work with FlaggedRevs there will be sample code for use with an RSS extension. Let's be realistic, the less demands we place on the WMF dev. staff the more likely we are to get what we want.
I've done my fair share of software development (just not php) so I think I am semi-qualified to comment on this. If we ignore RSS and focus on DPL then this is how I see it working. (a) FlaggedRevs allows you to have a variety of flags applied to an article. (b) DPL allows you to build a list of articles based on including one list of categories and excluding others. (c) If DPL can (c.1) exclude articles which do not have a specific flag and (c.2) only link to the most recently flagged version of an article, then we have what we need. This is likely a vast oversimplification, but I believe everyone on Wikinews can understand that and the developers can see where we want to go. RSS is effectively the same. The thing to note here is that there is no requirement to change FlaggedRevs, just to make DPL and RSS aware of it. Realistically, there may be a requirement to modify FlaggedRevs to expose this data to the other extensions, but we have a clear goal that I do not think Brion, Tim, et-al will have any trouble understanding.
Items raised by Staff/Board
Code of ethics
- (Currently at Wikinews:Code of Ethics)
Our existing code of ethics is still in draft form, and focuses primarily on the obligations of contributors to the site. Many aspects of it have been drawn from similar documents which public service broadcasters such as BBC, CBC, and VOA operate within. A key aspect of this is an ethical responsibility to our readers. Something which is very much in the back seat as far as our current draft goes.
The issue with adopting virtually all of a code such as that from CBC is that a key aspect is the responsibility to readers can often conflict with the volunteer nature of contributions. With nobody being paid it is impossible to make someone cover something. This was our problem with User:Moulton who obviously lacks an understanding of the problems a small community faces in ensuring further developments on stories are covered appropriately, and in a timely manner.
Sue suggested that the foundation may consider funding a think-tank or external body to draft a code of ethics for us, drawing on the publicly available documents that other broadcasters use. To do this we really need to be extensively briefing them on the peculiarities of the project and the issues that arise from the completely volunteer nature of contributions. For a project such as Wikipedia a code of ethics is fairly straightforward, for Wikinews it is much more complex and nuanced.
A consideration for any code of ethics is that it must be readily accessible. As such, any such document would likely require included in the Wikinews section of the left-hand sidebar. We should be up-front and in-your-face about saying we work to certain standards and anyone can review them.
Things Wikinews must do
Draft promotional material
Dozens of Wikimedia events occur every year, not just Wikimania. From chapter-organised conferences to Wikipedia academies, there is an opportunity - if we have the material - to have a short document advertising our project included with the other material given to attendees.
Design A2/A3 posters
Wikimania 2008 had a poster session. There were no Wikinews posters.
Offer a framework for those studying journalism
Those aspiring to a career as a professional journalist and studying towards such will work for free. They will not work for free in our current chaotic and disorganised structure. We need to define a workflow that would be familiar to them, and that would allow them course credit.
Recruitment and retention
- Documents and essays to help recruit both from WMF projects and the wider public.
- Information on why we have lost contributors after they have worked on the project for several months.
Constraints of a code of ethics
Things we want the Foundation to do
This is effectively approved, but the current proposal doesn't work.
Code of Ethics
Provided Wikinews documents the issues surrounding our volunteer nature a professional draft of a code of ethics may be funded.
Stage one may be read only, but the long-term goal should be to allow contributions from mobile devices. In particular, photos by MMS and brief on the scene reports.
- I have - post Wikimania - feedback from Kul on his interaction with cellular companies. First off, their interest is in capitalising on Wikipedia to encourage subscribers to use chargeable services. Unless Wikinews gains real prominence they're not going to invest in getting their subscribers involved here. However, I now have "an ear" to make suggestions that are useful to Commons and Wikipedia, but also useful to us.