[Wikimedia-l] Wikivoyage launch: why no blog post or pressrelease?

Jay Walsh jwalsh at wikimedia.org
Wed Jan 16 17:10:45 UTC 2013

On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 6:06 AM, Tom Morris <tom at tommorris.org> wrote:

> I'd say it's simpler than any of that.
> Wikimedia Foundation need to synchronise the formal launch of projects
> with press announcements and availability of press contacts. I don't care
> whether that's done on GMT, EST, PST, BST, CET, MMA, BDSM, MI5 or any other
> timezone. What's important is we don't formally launch a new project with a
> big stonking banner on Wikipedia (hint: people do see those) and not have
> any press release or blog post up… journalists will be confused, bloggers
> will be confused, ordinary citizens of the Internet will be confused.
> In fact, pretty much the only people who won't be confused will be people
> who have spent time keeping track of Wikimedia policy and governance stuff.
> Which is a pretty small group. And they won't even be able to say to the
> confused friends, bloggers, journalists etc. "Oh, here's a blog post from
> the Foundation which explains it" because there isn't a blog post or press
> release to point them to.
> Not having press releases or blog posts out when a project is formally
> launched is about as big a failure of basic public relations/press handling
> as you can get. If a PR professional working for a commercial organisation
> failed to make material available for the press upon launch of a new
> product, that'd be grounds to rapidly dropkick them from the building. (I
> mean, it's not like the Foundation are formally launching new sister
> projects every other week like in the old days…)
> Any plans to make sure things like this don't happen in the future?

Wow, drop-kicked from the building. Big failure of public relations as you
can get.

I'm amused that this thread commenced with a reflection about the need to
distribute press releases at the appropriate global time window and has
rolled into this. I've been at this for five years and this is the first
time I've seen so much attention paid to the manner we communicate with the

Let me be clear on one thing first - the scheduling of a central notice
announcing Wikivoyage to the world happened independently of any scheduled
timing of the distribution of a press release or a blog post. Presumably
the central notice kicked in at midnight UTC. I can't really bring myself
to have a discussion about the correct time to release news in a way that
it best serves the global media audience, but I will say that the
Foundation is still run by human beings, not software.

We sent out the press release as early as we reasonably could on Tuesday
from our offices. We use a hacked version of mailman to distribute our
press releases - we have been from the beginning. It is not fancy, it's a
big group of email addresses and a list that sends one-way only - out - to
over 2K subscribers. There is no way to schedule a release in advance, nor
will we ever set the system up to send out a release without a real person
at the switch. The news and plans about the scheduled announcement was
shared with communications contacts via comcom-l, and anyone was welcomed
and encouraged to adapt/localize the release and spread the news in their
region. That is our primary means of international media outreach. It's a
lot like our movement in general - we distribute the opportunity to carry
out communications work and localize the story to regional audiences.

Indeed the timing of the launch of a press release is a significant topic -
Lodewijk is right to point that out. We favor our media contacts on the
west coast by sending out a release at around 8AM Pacific Time. I might add
we immediately do a disservice to the majority of media contacts in the
North American audience by getting them the news 3hrs later. We don't
intend to support any media audience over another, except given that we
send out our press release in English, we unfortunately favor outlets that
work in English. Someday we might have the substantial resources to work
around that fact, but at this point my strong preference (and I think it's
safe to say the preference of Wikimedia communications contacts around the
world) is to share this responsibility for spreading the news with a
network of Wikimedians.

Ideally we would have also had the blog post synced up to be online
immediately at the same time as the release. I apologize that this couldn't
be the case, but please also understand that the moment you distribute news
to over 2K reporters, your phone tends to ring. You get a few emails. We're
load-balancing a huge amount of inbound contact, and let me remind you that
we're a hard-working non-profit. The comms team has 4 staff, 3 of whom are
focused on media relations, two of whom are primarily focused on media

It's true this is the first time in a long time that we've announced a new
project - the first in my five years at WMF. We knew it would be a major
source of news, and like all of our announcements we did our best to work
out the details in advance and to prepare for a huge amount of contact. As
with any new kind of announcement, we've also been able to learn a lot. But
then, the majority of what we have to say to the world is the sort of thing
no one has ever said before. We are truly doing the best we can, and I'm
always open to more suggestions about how we can optimize our work with
limited resources. I'm taking all of this into consideration, but please
remember that we're not software, and this business is not automated, nor
is it the same each time we do it.

I'm thrilled that the Wikivoyage announcement got so much attention over
the past 4-6 days, with a real uptick since the central notice went up and
the news went live. I can definitely confirm it's more attention than we
expected, which is great. Congrats to the Wikivoyagers on launching with a
real splash.

Jay Walsh
Senior Director, Communications
+1 (415) 839 6885 x 6609, @jansonw

More information about the Wikimedia-l mailing list