- Please note the subscription/notification poll described at the end.
Since joining the Signpost team and assuming the role of editor in chief in August 2016, I've struggled with two competing thoughts. I'm honored to help continue the important work of this publication; but I'm concerned about our future, as a volunteer-produced work covering an increasingly complex network of projects and organizations.
On the one hand, the Signpost team, and our occasional contributors, continually impress and inspire with their work, whether it be relevant and carefully-researched stories or a badly needed technical fix. The opportunity to work alongside them, to help present their work to our readers, and to learn from them, is a source of great pride and satisfaction.
But on the other hand, the problems we face—and that all, or most, of my predecessors have faced—are stark, and the solutions are not readily apparent. Our core team is small and overtaxed; we miss publication deadlines; and we are not as diverse, by any number of measures, as we should be.
The value of the Signpost
The Signpost, since its inception in 2005, has built a strong and important legacy. While I, and my colleagues and predecessors, have made some mistakes and omissions, the publication has consistently played a central role in helping Wikipedians and Wikimedians understand our ever-expanding world, track important developments, and engage with various initiatives. Many of our stories—coverage of WikiLeaks in 2010, and of the Knowledge Engine in 2016, come to mind—have documented stories whose importance goes beyond the ranks of Wikimedians, and have filled gaps left by media entities that sometimes struggle to engage with the complexities of the Wikimedia world. I recently asked for perspectives on the Signpost's value on the website Quora, and have enjoyed reading through the answers; I hope to see more there, or in the comments here.
But much of our process and technology is "legacy" in the less agreeable sense. Inefficiencies tax the limited time and attention of our personnel, and impede our ability to present a superior news product. Our format, news offerings, publication schedule, and delivery mechanisms are not as consistent as we, or our readers, would like.
Recruitment and retention are key
Most of my discussions about these issues, whether with "Signpost insiders" or occasional readers, have pointed to "R&R"—recruitment and retention—as the key issues. I agree with this assessment—to a point.
But as we begin 2017, rather than focus entirely on R&R, we are going to focus on some of the issues we believe impact R&R.
When volunteers come forward to work with us, do we offer clear roles and assignments, so they can quickly contribute in satisfying ways? Do we give them the support they need to succeed? When writers or other contributors do leave the Signpost, can future employers in communications or research see the value of what they've done here? These are some of the questions demanding our attention.
What we can improve
We have already made some "under the hood" changes that will make things easier going forward. My predecessor Gamaliel had the foresight to bring in a team member with a professional background in human resources, Rosiestep, whose insights have helped us think more clearly about R&R. We adopted Slack to serve as our "newsroom"—a discussion platform that lets both regular and occasional contributors discuss and refine stories and longer-term planning. We have begun using the open platform Hypothes.is to support more sophisticated editing of stories submitted on-wiki.
Already this year, TheDJ updated the CSS for our pages, making us readable on mobile devices. And we have been exploring the Newsletter extension, currently under development by Qgil-WMF and others, which may allow us to offer more useful subscription options in the future. A team of volunteers has emerged to plan for a revamp of our publication bot, which will greatly simplify our work when complete.
As we move forward, we want to continue to expand our coverage to more thoroughly cover the international, multi-project, multi-language totality of the Wikimedia world. We hope to make our content more accessible via RSS, which should in turn improve our exposure outside Wikipedia, via services like Planet Wikimedia and Google News.
Did you know the Signpost's name is a pun? I only discovered this recently, when reading Michael Snow's initial announcement in 2005. A core feature of the publication, that distinguishes it from most wiki content, is that our posts are signed; attribution is a key feature. But is our approach to attribution sufficient to serve the needs of Wikipedians looking to build a resume for a career in journalism, communications, or research? Perhaps not. We will be looking to tweak the way we approach attribution in our pages, and to improve the visibility of the Signpost in places like LinkedIn, to help those who have substantially contributed to our work more effectively communicate their role to the wider world.
Could formal, clearly-defined roles help us build a team that's more consistent, or more inviting to (say) non-native English speakers? That's another angle we're exploring; we may even take steps to create a formal internship program.
Even as we experiment and make improvements, we will of course continue to publish regularly. Full disclosure, though: we might strain your expectations of "regularity." We explicitly changed from weekly to fortnightly publication in 2016, and we've found that even the new schedule is challenging to sustain. We are considering changing to a monthly publication schedule, partially in recognition of the various communication channels that have sprung up around the Signpost over the years. We're especially interested in your thoughts and wishes about our publication schedule.
What do you think?
Many past "from the editor" notes have broadly called for new contributors; and of course, we welcome those who want to pitch in. If you want details on how you can contribute, the framework offered in this October 2015 still applies. But for the moment, we're not actively pursuing contributors, beyond those who have a clear idea what they want to do, and are pretty capable of forging ahead with limited guidance. If that's you, please let us know; but if clear guidance is important to you, give us a little more time. We expect to put out a more comprehensive call in the near future, when we're better prepared to work with new volunteers to find the best fit.
We do want to stay in touch about our progress, and about our plans as they evolve. I plan to use the Signpost's main talk page for occasional updates on what we're working on; please keep an eye on it for the most up-to-date information. Please chime in there, or in the comment section below, if you have thoughts about our priorities and next steps.
How do you like to get your Signpost?
Would you like cream with that? How about some sugar?
We expect to have some new options available for subscribers in the coming months. Please fill in this poll to help inform our decisions. (It's based on a Google form; if you prefer not to use Google, just leave us a note below instead.)
Some background information, and the full poll questions, are available here.