Wikipedia's first featured article centurion
- The views expressed in this interview are those of the author and interviewee; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section. The Signpost welcomes proposals for such interviews and op-eds at our opinion desk.
The 2007 pony swim at Chincoteague, Virginia
. The promotion of the article on the history of that settlement made Wehwalt's century of FAs.
Franklin Peale, 3rd Chief Coiner of the United States Mint
at Philadelphia ... another on Wehwalt's list of FAC to-dos.
Baseball legend Babe Ruth in 1920, in New York Yankees
uniform ... destined for the FAC room at the hands of Wehwalt.
On 7 December, editor Wehwalt
reached the momentous milestone of 100 featured articles with History of Chincoteague, Virginia
. Quite apart from the reading and research, that's around three-quarters of a million words of finalised text, not counting footnotes, image captions and the rest. Having some familiarity with the FAC process myself, I am well aware of the effort and dedication involved in such an achievement. Wehwalt is a modest fellow, very matter-of-fact about his editorial accomplishments, as I discovered when he agreed to answer a few of my questions.
First, congratulations on your century, a terrific achievement! Would you tell us what brought you to Wikipedia in the first place?
- There's something intriguing about an encyclopedia that stays up to date, after growing up with the paper World Book and annual supplements. I sort of put my head in to see what was going on and have never taken it out.
Your choice of username is unusual; would you explain it?
- Sure. It's from Wagner's Die Walkure – it's the alias Siegmund gives himself. There's a place near the end of Act 2 when another character calls "Wehwalt! Wehwalt!" that sends shivers down my spine.
Yes, it's when Hunding, offstage, calls Siegmund out to fight. The word of course means "woeful", not a characteristic I've observed particularly in your editing.
- I would translate it as "filled with woe". Sometimes true, sometimes not.
Fortunately for us, mostly not; your rate of production is astonishing. Your first FA was promoted in May 2007, so you've reached your century within 80 months – that's an average rate of, well, more than one a month over all that time. And you do other things for the encyclopedia, too – you are an admin, you review articles, you fight for causes. My question is: do you ever get tired?
- Very funny! I don't write all the time by any means. Sometimes I'm in a rush because I have a deadline of some sort, but the process is really pretty leisurely. As for the drama, I leave that for others these days, I hope.
Can you give a brief outline of your methods; for example, do you tend to write in long or in short chunks? Do you compose straight on to the article page, or do you use sandboxes? Do you incorporate refs as you go along, or when you've finished drafting a section? Are you a fluent writer or, like me, an incorrigible redrafter and meddler with almost every sentence?
- I tend to write a section at a time, broken into paragraphs. I try to include the refs as I go along – it's easier to avoid mistakes that way, but sometimes I it works better to write a couple of paragraphs and then supply the references. I can get the idea, and the enthusiasm to do an article from anywhere. I did Thaddeus Stevens because I saw the movie, Lincoln. I was in an airport once in Canada and I saw an exhibit on John Diefenbaker, and my reaction was "Hm, I wonder if our article on him's any good". I usually write in sandboxes, and if it's a renovation of an article, generally transfer it over a section at a time. If it's brand new, then all at once when it's reasonably finished. I have to polish what I write to fix typing or similar mistakes. Sometimes I'll rearrange things, but I'm usually confident the structure is OK.
I've been looking at the range of your FAs, which cuts across quite a few of the featured article categories. You've done history, politics, musicals, opera, coins, and a quite a few oddball characters. Something for almost everyone, in fact. Which is the area you find most enjoyable and/or satisfying to work in?
- It's hard to say. The coins and the politics articles are fun to do, but I'm always looking for a subject I feel enthusiastic about, that I feel really is worth doing – like Avery Brundage, or Ezra Meeker.
Which article has been the hardest for you, and why?
- There were a couple. John A. Macdonald I left in the middle for about six months – it just wasn't working for some reason, then I went back and finished it. William Jennings Bryan presidential campaign, 1896 was difficult because his Cross of Gold speech so dominates that article. So I left it alone, finished the rest of the article, and then wrote the speech section ... although there are various projects that have been played with but never completed, perhaps one of these days, for example The Writer 2.0; I got about halfway done with Al Davis and then lost enthusiasm.
Some editors are daunted by the FA process and steer clear. Briefly, what advice would you give to FAC tenderfeet?
- Spend as much time as you can reading the article to yourself before getting to FAC. And the more eyes the better. We're not the best judges of our own prose. Once you're in the FAC process, if you're not certain, ask. And most of the regulars are willing to give advice, as are the coordinators. And make sure you do your share of reviews.
I'd go along with all those, and maybe add: "Make certain you fully understand the FA criteria before you nominate."
- And be kind and thank the reviewers, starting with you, Brian, since you must have done about 80 of the 100.
It's been a pleasure. You must by now be planning your second FA century, so what can we expect, at least in the nearish future?
- Well, I'm gearing up for Oklahoma! – Ssilvers and I are trying to finish up the remaining Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. I've got an interesting coin-related article, Franklin Peale, a 19th-century Philadelphia Mint official who was a member of the eccentric Peale family. And I'd like to get Babe Ruth done for the centennial of his major league debut next year, it's part done.
Some fascinating stuff there, and we'll look forward to reading these articles. Thanks for your time, and for all that you have done for the encyclopedia these past seven years.
List of Wehwalt's featured articles