News and notes
Sue Gardner to leave WMF; German-language Wikipedians spearhead another effort to close Wikinews
Executive director Sue Gardner will leave the Wikimedia Foundation
On Wednesday 27 March, Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation since December 2007, announced that she plans to leave the position when a successor is recruited. Ranked as one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine, and one of only two women running a top-10 internet player, Sue Gardner is widely associated with the rise of the Wikimedia movement as a major custodian of human knowledge and cultural products.
Shortly after her announcement, Foundation board deputy chair Jan-Bart de Vreede wrote: "As a board member I will forever be grateful that she was willing to bet on a small organization with a lot of potential [and built on that potential] to make it one of the most powerful examples in the space of open knowledge and learning." Gardner's departure will not be immediate: the recruitment and transition are expected to take some six months, and she says she will be fully engaged in the job until a new person is in place.
Under her leadership, the WMF has undergone fundamental changes. In 2007, it spent only $3.5 million. By 2012, this had risen to an annual $22.3 million, the year in which a five-country fundraiser netted $25 million in just nine days. Over the same period, the Foundation has expanded beyond a simple server-supporting organization, funding programs from education to GLAM opportunities. The WMF itself was transplanted from St. Petersburg, Florida to San Francisco and has expanded from fewer than 10 employees to 160—of these, 100 have arrived over the past two years.
The ex-CBC producer cites two reasons for her decision. "First, the movement and the Wikimedia Foundation are in a strong place now. ... If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't feel okay to leave. In that sense, my leaving is a vote of confidence in our Board and executive team and staff." Her second reason may give the movement pause: "although we’re in good shape, ... the same isn’t true for the internet itself. Increasingly, I’m finding myself uncomfortable about how the internet’s developing, who’s influencing its development, and who is not." She says, "Wikipedia has experienced censorship at the hands of industry groups and governments", and that increasingly we are "seeing important decisions made by unaccountable non-transparent corporate players, a shift from the open web to mobile walled gardens".
When I joined, the Foundation was tiny and not yet able to reliably support the projects. Today it's healthy, thriving, and a competent partner to the global network of Wikimedia volunteers
— Sue Gardner
Gardner warns that while many organisations and individuals advocate for the public interest online ("what’s good for ordinary people"), other interests are more numerous and powerful. "I want that to change. And that’s what I want to do next."
This is driving her towards a new role—"one very much aligned with Wikimedia values and informed by my experiences here, and with the purpose of amplifying the voices of people advocating for the free and open internet." While Gardner has not yet decided the exact trajectory of her next career phase, she "feels strongly that this is what I need to do."
"Until then, nothing changes. The Wikimedia Foundation has lots of work to do, and you can expect me to focus fully on it until we have a new Executive Director in place."
The Foundation board, which will be ultimately responsible for appointing the new executive director, has established a transition team consisting of board member Jan-Bart de Vreede (who will chair the team); chair of the board and community-elected trustee Kat Walsh; chapter-selected trustee Alice Wiegand (also a member of the HR Committee); Sue Gardner; her deputy, Erik Moeller; WMF General Counsel Geoff Brigham; and Chief Talent and Culture Officer, Gayle Karen Young. An outside recruitment firm will be engaged to assist in the task.
Jan-Bart de Vreede says the team will meet informally over the next few weeks, and will conduct its first first physical meeting in mid-April in Milan as part of the Wikimedia Conference, after which he will release a status report. Members of the movement are welcome to attend office hours on Saturday 30 March at 18:00 UTC, and Jan-Bart de Vreede can also talk about the matter on the list. He will set up corresponding pages on Meta over the next few days and community members are strongly encouraged to share their views there in due course.
The Signpost invites its readers' views on what talents should be looked for in a new executive director on the talk page, on Facebook, or through tweeting @wikisignpost.
German-language Wikipedians are in the vanguard of an effort to close down Wikimedia sister project Wikinews, the latest in a series of closure movements over the past few years.
The current discussion, which is currently being debated on Meta—the coordinating website for the Wikimedia movement—began from a discussion on the talk page of the Signpost's German-language cousin, the Kurier, which has been published since 2003; its motto is "not necessarily neutral [and] not encyclopedic". The newsletter recently ran a story on the future of Wikiversity, the site that is "devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education from pre-school to university." In comments on the talk page, discussion quickly turned to Wikinews; a day later, the debate moved to Meta.
Wikinews has had a controversial history within the Wikimedia movement. Various language versions have been proposed for closure over the last several years, including in 2011, in 2012—where the English-language Wikinews was contentiously kept open—and in 2013. Additionally, several individuals have argued that Wikipedia covers recent news better than Wikinews—essentially stating that it beats its sister project at its own mission—including the Nieman Journalism Lab in 2010.
The English-language Wikinews has seen perhaps the greatest amount of controversy despite its small number of editors. A Signpost report documenting a fork of Wikinews in 2011 put the number at just two dozen active editors, not all of whom published articles. This number is most likely not aided by the project's editorial atmosphere, which has been described as "hostile". The fork, named OpenGlobe, was a direct result of this and Wikinews' complicated publishing process; it took nine of Wikinews' two dozen editors. Over time, OpenGlobe lost editors due to real life issues, leading to its end in August of last year.
Today, the English Wikinews still ranks as among the top language Wikinews sites. The report card reveals that the site has just 17 active editors, with four being "highly active", correlating to five or more and 100 or more edits per month, respectively. The number of new articles per month, a key barometer in a news-geared site, has slowly declined from a high of over 400 in April 2005 to below 50 today.
In contrast, the Russian Wikinews has seen recent success, with over 250 new articles being created in January 2013. However, the Russian and French Wikinews sites are the only ones with over 100 articles created in a single month in 2013; the Serbian Wikinews may also fall in this category, but the report card does not cover it.
The Meta debate has included many of these arguments and has a statistical analysis of all active or semi-active Wikinews projects. In a related discussion, Liliana stated:
||Wikinews is flawed by its very definition. Normally, the wiki principle dictates that content with time grows and becomes better by gathering information from secondary sources (or, in the case of Wikibooks, first-hand knowledge). However, this principle doesn't work for Wikinews. News by definition are current and their value diminishes with time. There is no reason why anyone would want to use Wikinews when the big news portals are much more up-to-date and have much more content. Given that we have no correspondents across the world who are able to directly write reports on what's happening, we are forced to copy from the other news portals, which makes us pretty much useless. ...
Wikinews across the board has failed completely as a WMF project. It may be relaunched at a later date, but then there would need to be a proper plan on how to get a constant stream of news going so we can establish ourselves as a useful news source. I fail to see anything like that in our current Wikinews projects.
Those in support of Wikinews, such as odder, have focused on a perceived lack of Wikimedia Foundation support for Wikinews:
||Let me also just point out that the costs of keeping Wikinews — all its language versions — alive, as compared to the English Wikipedia, are negligible. No current WMF employee works with the Wikinews community, and the number of page views, the size of the database, etc. of all Wikinews language editions is much smaller than of the English Wikipedia alone. Seeing that the Foundation focuses the vast majority of its resources on that single wiki — especially employee time, which is the most expensive of all — the financial argument being brought up above doesn't seem in touch with the reality.
Still, as Gestumblindi says in the Meta debate, "A small random selection of (mostly) retold news is not a news site." Should the various-language Wikinews sites be closed? The Signpost encourages our readers to post their thoughts on the talk page.
- Triple TFA: The English Wikipedia's Bugle, the newsletter of the Military history project, has published an article by Prioryman on the first-ever triple "Today's featured article", which included Blockhaus d'Éperlecques, La Coupole and Fortress of Mimoyecques. They were on the main page on 25 March, which marked the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's approval to construct them. Prioryman, who was the author of the three articles, noted that all three were "secret German bases in north-eastern France which were intended to house the V-2 rocket and the V-3 cannon." The entire process took Prioryman two years and included a trip to the sites in 2011, visits to the British Library and UK National Archives, and figuring out how to use the major source on these sites, which happened to be written by noted Holocaust denier David Irving, who was later cited by an English court as having "persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" for ideological reasons.
- Quarterly review: The minutes of the quarterly review with the WMF's mobile team have been published. WMF executive director Sue Gardner positively remarked on the team's work, though she noted that it was "partly luck and circumstances" alongside "good management [and a] skilled team."
- History of WMF grants: The WMF has published a retrospective of its grantmaking from the fiscal years 2009 to 2012. Outside contractor Kevin Gorman, an English Wikipedia editor since 2011, was commissioned to write the report.
- New Armenian chapter: The newest Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia Armenia, has been approved by the Affiliations Committee and recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation. The addition of Wikimedia Armenia brings the total number of global chapters to thirty-nine, most being nation-based (the two exceptions being the American New York City and DC).
- Adminship developments: The third and final round of the adminship reform request for comment is open for voting. Ymblanter has been granted adminship rights on the English Wikipedia. One request for adminship and one request for bureaucratship are open for comments.
- Wikimedia hackathon scholarships: A Wikimedia-related hackathon will be held from 24 to 26 May. To request a scholarship to attend, please register for the event and request a scholarship by 20 April on Mediawiki.
- Wikivoyage gets a makeover: The English-language Wikivoyage, one of the WMF's two new projects, has launched a new Main page and opened a "Tourist Office".
- Core Contest: Another edition of the Core Contest—a "short intensive contest ... [focusing] on improving Wikipedia's most important articles, particularly those in the worst state of disrepair"—will begin on 15 April and end on 13 May. Contest entries will be submitted at Wikipedia:The Core Contest/Entries. £250 in Amazon vouchers will be given out to the winners, who will be determined by contest judges Casliber, Brianboulton, Steven Walling, and Binksternet.