Learning patterns/Volunteers versus journalists: top-of-mind considerations

A learning pattern foroutreach
Volunteers versus journalists: top-of-mind considerations
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.
solutionSuch communities, however, will still get approached by journalists – for interviews, comments on recent events, editorials, etc. Here are some top-of-mind considerations when dealing with the media in such case.
created on08:56, 6 September 2015 (UTC)

What problem does this solve?


Media, especially "traditional" professional print and electronic media, require urgent reactions when they send an invitation for an interview or a reportage featuring Wikipedians/Wikimedians or wiki communinities. They usually demand the answer immediately or by the end of the day, because of the dynamics of the media, and due to their expectation that they contact the public relations officer of the wiki community.

The problem stems from the fact that, in general, journalists are used to talking with designated spokespeople rather than with anonymous communities.

They usually approach us with the awareness that Wikipedians/Wikimedians are volunteers, but they often act or demand that we act as if we are professionally involved, paid staff, expecting a top-down hierarchy and an immediate decision making process.

What is the solution?


There is no universal recipe of how volunteers can successfully interact with professional journalists, as this is a function of many variables that have to be considered simultaneously:

  • the specifics of the particular media and the particular journalist,
  • the specifics of the wiki community and the particular contacted volunteer,
  • the particular media occasion which drew the journalist's attention to Wikipedia/Wikimedia.

However, when a volunteer gets contacted by a professional journalist, especially with the demand for an urgent reaction, several top-of-mind considerations can appear that can prove helpful to adequately handle the request.

Things to consider

  • The long-term benefits of such a media participation.
    No need to be "omnivorous", not all media deserve that we talk to them, e.g. yellow press. The Wikimedia community is already an authority, and can certainly allow the luxury to be picky and opt not to respond to some media requests.
  • The min and max number of required interviewees.
    In short interviews, involvement of many participating editors can be distracting and will make it more difficult for the journalists to outline the best messages.
  • The constraints of the situation.
    • For instance, does the media require physical presence of the people to be interviewed or can they interview over the phone?
    • Is the meeting point a communicative place with a wifi connection in case the operators want to record the process of editing Wikipedia (they often do!)
  • Who are the most appropriate representatives if the topic is specific, etc.
    • Sometimes, media are interested in people with narrow but deep expertise in some topic, like the Freedom of Panorama and free licenses.
    • In general, they are in such a hurry that "anyone would do" (meh!)
  • Recruiting volunteers to be interviewed.
    • Informing the community for the media outreach opportunity on the local Village Pump is "the wiki way" of doing it, but since this is asynchronous and often non-personally-addressed communication, it may not work well in urgent cases.
    • In such cases, checking the Recent changes for editors who are currently online and fit within the expected profile, is the better tactics.
    • Another option is to contact the spokespersons via a social network, like a Facebook group. People tend to check their Facebook quite often and get immediate personal notifications.
    • Do not procrastinate, media are in a hurry. Define strict deadlines, but also encourage participation.

When to use


This learning pattern can prove especially helpful in cases of:

  • young wiki communities, or
  • wiki communities with no formal organization (chapter, user group), or
  • wiki communities with formal organization, but with no designated agent who is experienced in public relations and communication with professional journalists.



See also