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What I learned as Wikimedia UK Communications Coordinator

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By John Lubbock
John Lubbock worked in Communications for Wikipedia UK for four years ending in January. For his take on the job in 2017 see this article S

It's very difficult to get the press to take an interest in Wikipedia, its community or other Wikimedia projects. For most people, including the mainstream media, Wikipedia is a reliable background resource that's always there when they need to understand something quickly. They don't want to know how the sausage is made, although to be fair to them, it's a sausage made with a very large amount of boring rules which don't make for clickbait headlines.

Nevertheless, it did surprise me how hard it was to get, for example, regional press in Wales to cover Welsh Wikipedia passing 100,000 articles. Occasionally, a particular project will capture people's imagination and get a lot of press, such as the University of Edinburgh's Scottish Witchcraft map at the end of 2019. In many cases, however, journalists don't mention that chapters like Wikimedia UK support Wikimedians in Residence and their projects, and so many people don't know that local Wikimedia chapters exist at all.

We don't have much money or resources to communicate our work, so we need to be more creative. Issuing press releases about our work never generated any news coverage for Wikimedia UK. Pitching articles like I do when I work as a freelance journalist in my spare time was a much more effective way to get our name in the press. Taking this approach allowed me to get pieces published in the TES, New Statesman, Kurdistan 24, OpenDemocracy, Wonk Magazine and London Student, and had events covered by Fortune and Euronews.

I've also made a lot of video content, as it's a great way to showcase in an accessible way what our chapter does. I've made films about the Gender Gap, about the Celtic Knot minority language conference, Open Knowledge and copyright, about collaborations with the Khalili Collections, Amnesty International, Europeana, the Wellcome Library #1Lib1Ref, Wikimania 2017, Fake News, Wiki Loves Monuments and ScienceSource. Again, it's often hard to get a lot of attention for videos about small projects, although I have found that our Wiki Loves Monuments videos tend to get a lot of views because for WLM we are able to put a watchlist banner on Wikipedia to direct UK viewers to our local WLM UK website, where we can embed local video content.

Another approach I found quite useful was to contact music and cultural festivals and ask for press passes for volunteer photographers. I got photo passes for two community members for the 2019 Glastonbury Festival, and their photos helped to improve the Wikipedia articles of many of the artists who performed there, as well as of the festival itself. I would really recommend that chapters contact music (and other arts) festivals to try to get photography passes for their members, as this can help to generate content, especially for underrepresented artists, and it's a nice thing to do for your community.

There are so many communications channels for finding out what is happening within the Wikimedia community, and you need to know people involved in projects and ask them what they're doing to find out about some of them. It's pretty much impossible for one person to keep on top of everything that is going on within the Wikimedia community, but I definitely felt that going to as many events as possible and meeting Wikimedians who are working hard on their own projects was important, and helped to make community members feel that the chapter was listening to their advice and concerns. I encouraged the community to write for our blog, and also covered projects led by community members in posts about Arabic Wikipedia, Structured Data on Commons, Wikipedia's lack of admins, AutoWikiBrowser, WikiJournals and ScienceSource, as well as writing advice for journalists, new editors, businesses and music companies.

People appreciate having a less serious social media style. Encyclopaedias can be dry, but communicating them doesn't have to be boring. Have fun. The most engagement I got for a tweet was asking K-Pop fans to vote on which big K-Pop band was better, BTS or EXO. On the downside, as I'm sure many people doing communications work can attest to, if social media stats are the primary metric by which you measure how well you're doing at your job, there's a temptation to work long hours, and at the weekend. This is something I would caution communications people against, but it's hard not to do this if your work is not just a job, but something you care about and chimes with your values.

English speaking Wikimedia chapters like Wikimedia UK need to diversify the languages they work in. English Wikipedia just passed 6 million articles (see related Signpost coverage), and if Wikimedia chapters in more economically developed countries are to remain relevant, we need to think about how we can help under-resourced languages. We've done this in the UK by reaching out to diaspora communities with which we had links and running workshops to help them improve content about their cultures and in their own languages.

We've run workshops with both the Turkish and Kurdish communities, and written about this work for both Turkish and Kurdish news websites. In the run up to Turkish Wikipedia being unblocked by the Turkish government recently, we ran an editathon for Turkish speakers which was covered by Turkish language sites like Euronews and Duvar. I hope these projects will continue to be supported by Wikimedia UK in future, as the charity has a strategic aim of increasing the diversity of content and contributors to Wikimedia projects.

Partnering with bigger organisations, as Wikimedia UK has done over the past few years with organisations like the BBC, Amnesty International and Adidas to deliver projects is probably one of the best ways to gain media coverage. Being a Wikimedia chapter with only around 10 staff members, there is only so much you are going to be able to achieve on your own. Wikimedia chapters are never going to have a lot of money to do huge projects and pay for advertising, so you need to have realistic expectations about what is possible.

Wikimedia UK has had a lot of success through its Wikimedian in Residence programme especially, and WiRs generate quite a lot of their own press in collaboration with the institutions they work with, as we saw with the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft. I ended up running quite a lot of events, like Wikidata meetups, Skillshares, and with organisations like the Association of Independent Musicians, PEN International and diaspora community groups. A lot of these projects will generate their own press, and you shouldn't tire yourself out trying to convince the press to cover something that doesn't excite them.

The press will cover Wikipedia when there's a juicy angle, like when editors put the Daily Mail on the list of unreliable sources. There's conflict and clickbait in those kinds of stories, but unfortunately, Wikipedia's incremental improvement rarely gets a mention. Wikipedia will probably never be exciting, and it doesn't really need to be: it gives you basic, factual information about the world, and that's all it needs to do. I remember once correcting someone's misconception about Wikipedia on Twitter, and they responded with 'I bet you're fun at parties'. Nobody brings an encyclopaedia to a party, I said.

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We should act as legitimate press more often. My local user group affiliate has issued press credentials recognized by the U.S. Government for access to their facilities, for instance. ☆ Bri (talk) 20:58, 1 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Very much agree. It was a great shame that Wikinews wasn't able to have simple press pass procedures. T.Shafee(Evo&Evo)talk 11:39, 2 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Not a new thing. Laura Hale and her WP colleague did well out of it. Too well, if some of the critics are to be believed. Sitush (talk) 22:17, 3 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]


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