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Discussion report

Proposal to change board composition, In The News dumps Trump story

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By Nosebagbear, Bri, and Smallbones

Board composition discussion

Disclosure: the author Nosebagbear has actively engaged on the discussion page of the proposed bylaw changes.

On the 7th October, the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation published a number of proposed bylaw changes for community discussion. The theoretical deadline for discussion was the 26th October, prior to this edition being published, however as of time of writing, the consultation period had not formally been concluded. Any editors wishing to participate are advised to do so rapidly in lieu of a new updated timeline being provided (as requested by a number of participants). The Board Governance Committee (BGC) were scheduled to meet on the 27th October.

Some proposals have been formally clarified in the discussion page, others have clarifications offered by Board trustees, but not speaking on behalf of the whole Board. Where relevant, the latter category shall be noted.

Overview table

Comparison of key changes
Current Revised
Number At least 9, at most 10 (depending on Founder's seat being filled):
  • 3 community-selected
  • 2 affiliate-selected
  • 4 Board-selected
  • 1 Founder
  • Community-selected and affiliate-selected trustees must be in the majority
At least 9, at most 16 (Target of 15/16, but a much lower minimum quorum):
  • 8 community-sourced
  • 7 Board-selected
  • 1 Founder
  • Majority not required to be community-sourced
Community-sourced Trustees
  • 3 trustees selected every 3 years through a “community voting” process determined by the Board.
  • 2 trustees selected every 3 years through a process designed by affiliates and approved by the Board
  • 8 trustees selected as needed to fill open seats through a “community nomination process” determined by the Board.
  • Remove differentiation for affiliate vs. community voting seats.
Terms, Term Limits, and Resignation from Other Positions Outlined and repeated separately for each of the trustee selection methods Outlined in just one place for all trustees (with no substantive changes)
Staff Officers Executive Director, Secretary, and Treasurer CEO, Secretary, and Treasurer, with more detailed descriptions of the officers’ current roles

Summary of Bylaw proposals provided by WMF, with minor additional clarifications on trustee numbers added

A full revision comparison of the specific bylaw texts can be see at the bylaw proposals page, as created by editor Laurentius.

Board structure

The most immediate change would be a 60% increase in the (target) Board size, at 16. This would reduce to 15 in the event of vacancy of the Founder's seat. This slightly increases the appointed proportion (43.75% compared to the current 40%). The Board Expansion resolution and governance recommendations indicate this was heavily due to a workload overwhelming a limited number of trustees, including a need to sit on multiple committees. There was also a desire to be able to add "additional experience, skills and diversity on the Board".

One of the two most-discussed proposals, the bylaw changes would remove the requirement for a majority of the Board (excluding the Founder seat) to be community/affiliate-selected. While the breakdown given in the overview would remain the norm/target, this is designed to provide more flexibility in the event of loss of Community representatives (for example, due to resignations). However, upon issues being raised that the bylaws could permit a format of 1 Community trustee, 1 Founder trustee, and 7 appointed trustees, Amanda Keton (WMF General Counsel) agreed that was "a bug" and would raise the issue with the BGC.

The current "community-selected" and "affiliate-selected" seats will be merged into a single category. Jimmy Wales' Founder trustee seat will be retained at this point. In discussion about a potential change to a non-voting seat, Jimmy Wales stated that In the long run, as is well known, I think of my position in terms of desiring that my role be limited to "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn". That's consistent with a permanent non-voting observer seat.

Trustee selection

Currently the most discussed proposal, the bylaws would be amended from "Community-selected" – the Board approving candidates selected by votes of the Community (subject to their meeting legal requirements) – to "Community-sourced". The WMF had indicated that they specifically wanted the bylaws confirmed before expanding the discussion into defining exactly what "Community-sourced" would mean. Concerns have been raised in relation to the potential for the Board to make choices other than the top-x number of candidates by votes. Individual trustees have stated that community voting will definitely remain part of the process.

The Board has also proposed a Board candidate rubric for evaluating potential trustees. It is unclear whether this would be candidates for all positions or purely appointed members, and if it were applied to elected positions, would it be a guideline for voters or a filter applied by the Board. The rubric includes 4 experience sections: Wikimedia experience, board experience, executive experience, and subject matter experience; and 4 diversity sections: background, geography, language, and political system experience.

Staff officers

The appreciable, primarily administrative changes are that the position of "Executive Director" becomes "Chief Executive Officer" and the current functional process is formalised, where the CEO attends all Board meetings except where there would be a conflict of interest (for example, performance or pay). Board member Raystorm has noted concerns on phrasing that may lead to confusion about circumstances under which the Board would ever be able to meet without the CEO present, which will be taken to the BGC. N

In the News dumps Trump COVID-19 story

When US President Donald Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady had positive tests for COVID-19 at 12:54 am (ET) (04:54 UTC) on Friday October 2, it was immediately big news in the US and internationally. The big US cable networks were all over the story. Despite the late hour of the report, at least two dozen US newspapers had the story on their front pages. The New York Times, which missed getting the story in its morning print edition, had seven on-line stories four hours after Trump's tweet. As the intersection of the two most widely covered news stories of the year, COVID-19 and the US Presidential election, the story was clearly newsworthy.

Nevertheless, the story was nowhere to be seen on the English Wikipedia's main page, though many readers might have expected it to be at the top right hand corner of the page as part of the In the News feature. Instead, over the next three days, in its three main slots ITN reported on the September 30 death of the 91 year-old Emir of Kuwait, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Stanley Cup finals, which ended on September 28, and on October 4, the London Marathon.

In The News does not, however, list stories based on the traditional concept of newsworthiness, which centers around what the editors believe the publication's readers would be interested in reading. Rather, the decision depends on what's called "ITN-worthy." But what is "ITN-worthiness"? A long and heated discussion about including the Trump COVID-19 story helps illustrate the answer. The question is not new, having been discussed previously in The Signpost and twice at the Village pump.

The official criteria for listing an article on ITN are two-fold:

a. There must be a Wikipedia article meeting "a minimum standard of quality" about the subject, though it does not need to be an article about the current event itself. There must also be an update based on current news: "A five-sentence update (with at minimum three references, not counting duplicates) is generally more than sufficient".
b. The event must be significant, and only consensus can determine significance. "It is highly subjective whether an event is considered significant enough ... The consensus among those discussing the event is all that is necessary to decide if an event is significant enough for posting."

A discussion at WT:ITN followed, focusing on the ITN procedure itself, especially the administrator closure of an item of intense interest to Americans and other parts of the world, after comments were allowed for just 83 minutes. During this time, most Wikipedians from North America were sleeping. The discussion had the following timeline:

WaltCip, who opened the final discussion, later noted that We all know that there's an unspoken rule (as much as we try to deny it) that whenever U.S.-based stories are nominated and compared to stories on other countries, we examine international significance as well as national significance for the simple reason of addressing inherent systemic bias that comes with having lots of U.S. editors. As TRM has said many times: "This is not U.S.-pedia". The fact that other countries are breathlessly covering this event, even in spite of comparative events not being posted on ITN, should have been enough to merit something other than an immediate re-closure.

Nsk92 expressed the opinion that We should retire ITN as a section of the Main Page altogether, except possibly for the RD [recent deaths] portion. We basically are saying to our readers that we know way way way better what's good for them and what's really important. That 8 editors who cast the 'oppose' votes in that discussion count more than all the news coverage in the world and the fact that tomorrow we'll probably discover that the (Donald Trump) Wikipedia article had been viewed by over 500K readers today (or at least I wouldn't be surprised if it were a number in that range). Those readers, they don't know anything about our ITN and ITNR rules, no do they care. But they most definitely know when a story is 'in the news'.

October 2 pageviews for the Donald Trump article turned out to be 434,632, up from an average of 81,000 over the previous two months.

Masem responded to Nsk92 with WP's not a newspaper, and ITNs not a news ticker, and people coming to WP's front page and ITN expecting to see a snapshot of world headlines are very much in the wrong place. Even considering that DT getting covid is a major story that goes beyond a newspaper (it is appropriate to be documenting in WP), its still a story that has gained undue coverage because it is 1) about the US and 2) right before the election.

The 12,000-word WT:ITN discussion was closed on October 6. B S

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In the News

@Ysangkok: I took the argument being made is less about user behaviors, and more a question of editorial/publishing intent. So it doesn't really matter how many people show up at the front page looking for news — the front page isn't attempting to be, or intended to be, a news service. So regardless how few or many of those people there may be, they're all in the wrong place.
IOW, I'm sure there are plenty of people who show up at the front page thinking Wikipedia is an internet search engine. I'm sure there are plenty of people who show up at Commons thinking it's a site to farm for images they can appropriate without attribution, then misuse in their private designs. All of those people, too — however many of them there are — are also in the wrong place. Knowing there's a lot of them wouldn't make it any more desirable to cater to them or reorient the site(s) in question around their desires or expectations. -- FeRDNYC (talk) 22:23, 1 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I suppose it means - how did those folks decide that "In the news" would intend to be news-free? As I understand it IYN goes back to 911. Did those people intend that ITN should ignore 911? Smallbones(smalltalk) 22:51, 1 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
If you wanted to participate in the discussion, you were welcome to do so Smallbones, but I sense from the tone of this article that you feel the decision not to post Trump's COVID diagnosis at ITN was a wrong one. I disagree. The conclusion not to post the story was entirely within our usual conventions, and can easily be justified on several measures - (1) we don't generally post COVID stories, instead delegating that ongoing saga to the special box at the top of ITN; in particular, Trump is not the first world leader to contract the disease and we have been consistent in not posting any of them. (2) there is a convention to avoid stories about candidates in elections within a short time window before said election, to avoid accusations of bias. I'm not sure what your point about 9/11 is - obviously that would have been posted, but then again 9/11 is hardly comparable to the US president getting a disease and recovering from it within a few days. Cheers  — Amakuru (talk) 22:57, 1 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
You may have received that tone from my part of the story. The two of us worked on it and likely mine's a little more sharp. ☆ Bri (talk) 00:20, 2 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Yes well of course I respect your opinion, and that of Smallbones. We are a broad church here. But for the reasons I've outlined, and which Masem has also mentioned below, this is hardly an open-and-shut case of "news-less ITN". The bottom line is that the community, in the form of those editors who participated in the discussion, decided that the Trump COVID story did not fit the standards usually applied to ITN so it wasn't posted. It is hardly the first headline-grabbing story to do so, nor is it the most contentious in our history. Cheers  — Amakuru (talk) 10:54, 2 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
It should also kept in mind that we still are running the COVID banner (an unusual thing in the first place) which is meant to group COVID-related stories while this remains a major concern across the globe. Also, not noted in the Signpost story is that ITN did not post earlier stories about Boris Johnson or another major world leader (I forget who atm) getting COVID, and to post Trump getting it would have been a massive systematic bias problem as well. It is why when there is a US news story, we do have to take care to make sure if it is something that is being bumped because it is US media covering it as big as it is, or if it is an actual viable ITN entry that we normally would post. --Masem (t) 01:39, 2 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I would imagine Bolsonaro to be the other – hard to tell how many times the man has had coronavirus given his science denial on the subject but it's at least once. I think the decisions to not include stories for any of these three men were all correct. Why do I care that the leader of a country was medically incapacitated for somewhere between a day and a couple of weeks? Happens all the time with routine illnesses and normal medical procedures. — Bilorv (talk) 12:35, 2 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Yeah ,that was the other. And to be clear, both Johnson and Bolsonaro were nominated for ITN and neither were supported for posting for ITN for pretty much the reason; we were ready to post if they were incapacitated and there was a permanent change of office head due to that (which would have been a standard ITN posting). --Masem (t) 16:55, 2 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]

((od)) I'd definitely suggest that anybody who is against a news-free ITN go there the next time they see some actual news that's not up there and express their views. There's no rhyme or reason needed - it's your subjective opinion that counts. So just tell them what you think. Smallbones(smalltalk) 00:01, 2 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]

Bylaws proposal


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