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Learning patterns/Volunteers versus journalists: the evergreen questions

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Volunteers versus journalists: the evergreen questions
problemMany wiki communities do not have formal organizations, and do not have designated spokespersons, who are professional, or at least experienced, in communicating with media.
solutionUntil the volunteers get some personal experience in interacting with media, they may benefit from knowing what are the *evergreen* questions, journalists love to ask.
created on17:59, 23 September 2015 (UTC)

What problem does this solve?[edit]

The first one or several interactions of Wikimedian volunteers with journalists and media agents can prove to be really stressful (for both sides, actually :) ).

Many volunteers prefer to keep a low profile and anonymity, believing that contributing their time and knowledge for the advancement of free knowledge, Wikipedia and its sister projects is enough effort, and find it daunting to stay "under the light of the projectors". Journalists, on their side, are used to talking with designated spokespersons rather than with amorphous anonymous communities, and also may have hard times finding a wiki volunteer who is willing – and able – to speak on the behalf of one's community. In addition, both sides usually have their own informed or uninformed prejudices against the other side, which is in no way helpful for the overcoming the communication barrier.

This is especially a problem of smaller countries/language communities, where the wiki volunteers are fewer, and journalists, instead of researching the topic by themselves, often rely on translating foreign media materials about the English Wikipedia, which is typically not a good way of explaining what is happening locally.

Until the volunteers gain personal experience in interacting with the media, they may benefit from knowing in advance some *evergreen* questions, journalists love to ask. Going to the interview prepared, knowing at least some of the questions that inevitably occur in such first-time meetings, can give the volunteers some advantage and confidence in front of the microphone and the camera.

What is the solution?[edit]

In case for the journalists this is the first ever meeting with a Wikipedian of flesh and blood, they usually have many different questions they need to ask, in order to get a better idea of the measure of Wikipedia and the community behind it, and what makes it so successful of a project, despite the controversies. And of course, the question Is Wikipedia reliable?

Here are some of the "evergreen" questions, which journalists often ask – and need to obtain clear, unambiguous answers to. Please, note that the list is not comprehensive, and feel free to provide suggestions from your own experience with journalists.

Domain Question Need to prepare in advance
(with statistics, etc.)?
More common for
smaller versions of WP?
Professionalism vs. Volunteering Is it really true that everybody can edit?
Professionalism vs. Volunteering Who controls the content?
Professionalism vs. Volunteering Do you obtain money for editing?
Content How reliable is Wikipedia?
Content Which are the best and least covered topics? Yes Yes
Content How many articles does *our* Wikipedia have (compared to the English)? Yes Yes
Content Why is *our* Wikipedia so different from the English one? Yes
Community How many people are contributing locally? Yes Yes
Vanity Can I have an article about myself? Yes

Things to consider[edit]

Arm yourself with statistics
Even when they do not understand them, journalists LOVE numbers. Experience shows that journalists often approach Wikipedians for interviews, without making their preliminary research on the topic, or they have some vague / fragmentary / biased ideas of the community that stays behind Wikipedia. Almost always, especially when this is their first encounter with a Wikipedian, they want to clarify their vague idea, so they want some quantitative, measurable and tangible orientations, i.e. numbers. Almost always they ask about the number of people in the community, and are often stricken with awe when they learn how little number of active volunteers actually keep in running, compared to the enormous number of users.
So, do not miss a chance to strike a journalist with awe, and arm yourself with some "hard" statistical data to show and cite (active editors, article traffic stats). Journalists are also impressed by the number of language versions (280+) and the number and diversity of sister projects. It's always a good idea to show them your local Wikipedia's ranking among this sea of other versions (see List of Wikipedias).
Arm yourself with a laptop (in the best case, one with wiki stickers all over the lid)
In addition, bring a laptop and arrange the meeting in a free wi-fi zone. You will not only be able to answer to specific questions and show statistics that require access to Wikipedia/Wikimedia, but the journalist will take with pleasure a photo of you editing Wikipedia in real time on your wiki-nerdish machine. :)
Ask for a preliminary meeting (especially when talking in radios or TV)
Some journalists, especially from the synchronous media like radio and TV, where their air time is strictly limited, may need to ask so many questions, that they may ask for a preliminary meeting in order to get themselves prepared for the real interview that will take place in real time. The wiki volunteer may also proactively ask for such a preparatory meeting, to overcome the "stage fear" during the interview on air.
Do not miss a change for such a preparatory meeting, as it will help both sides relax, get a deeper understanding of each other, overcome the false impressions and prejudices. In the end of the day, this will lead to more profound and correctly formulated questions during the real interview in the studio.
Have in mind, though, that some journalists who are featured in the daily radio/TV broadcasts (news, morning talk shows) or journalists in daily newspapers, have very tight schedule and short attention span. They often have to cover an enormous spectrum of topics, and Wikipedia is just one of them. Even if they are willing, they probably won't have the time to explore the topic profoundly. Such journalists may not propose or may not agree to arrange preliminary meetings and discuss Wikipedia in details.
Try to form long-lasting relationships with journalists
Some journalists, especially from monthly and weekly printed media, do not suffer from limitations of time, and they can spend much more time interviewing you and exploring Wikipedia. Once they finish with their list of top-of-mind evergreen questions, they may already be so enthralled that you may propose some form of longer lasting collaboration.
For instance, you may plan together the next interview in relation to the Wikipedia Day, 15 January, or the birthday of your local version of Wikipedia, or a forthcoming Wikimania, or some other regionally significant wiki event. Journalists love to have particular occasions, as this increases the chances for their material to get published and make it through the intensive newsfeed.
You can propose a series of publications or interviews that give a detailed overview of the multifaceted topic of Wikipedia (more probable with radio, print media, online media).
You can suggest a content–donation collaboration, where their media releases in Commons some part of their multimedia database under a compatible free license. It is reasonable to propose such an idea, only provided that a positive relationship has already been formed not only with the individual journalist, but also with some other media representatives from the hierarchy above him/her.
Make your own recording of the interview
This helps in many ways.
  • First, you will have a record of the interview, even if for some reason the media refuses or forgets to provide you with their copy.
  • Second, study your behaviour retroactively, and try to define and correct your weaknesses and mistakes.
  • Third, applicable mainly to printed media: Place your dictaphone on the table right next to the journalist's one, and do not make your recording secretly. When the journalist is aware that you have your own copy of the interview, when preparing their text, they will be especially careful to not alter your words in a way that you cannot recognize them. You too have a proof of what exactly has been said.
Ask to review the text before publication
Especially if it is the journalist's first interaction with the wiki world, there will inevitably be many words and concepts, which we, Wikimedians, use on a daily basis, but which have remained unclear for the journalist. Kindly ask for permission to have a look at the material prior to its publication, and be ready for any reaction between the offended refusal and the grateful consent.
Some journalists may feel their freedom of speech threatened upon such a request, or may excuse with the argument of adhering to their media's editorial policy. Make sure that you request it only for the purpose of verifying the wiki terminology, and do not introduce significant changes, unless you have explicitly agreed upon this possibility with the journalist.

When to use[edit]

  • When for either the wiki volunteer or the journalist this is the first interaction with the other side.


See also[edit]

Related patterns[edit]

External links[edit]