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No Food for Thought

Resigning from Debian's Publicity team (sort of), and the status of our public relations

admin Friday January 1, 2016

When I joined Debian, Debian Weekly News was an important tool for me to follow the project. I must have read each issue until, during the Dunc-Tank controversy, I read the following in the introduction of the 2006-09-26 issue:

Debian Weekly News - September 26th, 2006 wrote:
As Debian experiments with funding, the author of DWN is going to experiment with spending less time on Debian. Please understand that due to this there may be no future issues of DWN in the current form or that they will only be released less frequently.


This was horrific not just from a public relations standpoint, but from a manpower standpoint. Having someone replace Joey would be extremely difficult. And indeed, at that point, Debian Weekly News did stop being weekly, before its last issue came out on 2007-07-03.

I cannot blame Joey for what he did. He must have been burnt out at the time, and if it wasn't for the fact that Dunc-Tank was unofficial, it would have been a good reason to leave. I felt compelled to take over from Joey, but that would have been too much work, and I never thought weekly news was a good format anyway.

But when I saw Alexandr Schmehl's call to resurrect DWN inside the Publicity team, I felt it was my duty to help. And that wasn't hard - the first issues had very poor quality, and I quickly started reviewing them.

A lot has happened since. Many people joined the team. Many people left. A few people got quite involved. Unfortunately, no one got involved as much and for as long as Joey did. And the news never regained their former frequency, nor did they approach their former quality. Few contributors officially resigned, but I guess I am the last one from the initial crew to quit. Over time, my involvement expanded to review all public communications.

Publicity team delegated

Fast forward to September 2015. Many of those in charge of Debian's public relations, including myself, were probably surprised to read Updating delegation - Press/Publicity/Bits. There were good news there. Despite the title, this was essentially making the publicity team delegated, which had never been done before. For the first time, the publicity team was officially recognized. Merging the previous teams was perhaps a good idea. But most members of the previous teams were no longer part of the new team, without any explanation. On 2015-10-04, I contacted the DPL asking what this was all about. As the mailing list has been broken for many months, only one of these mails has been archived. I am making these mails public by including them below.

Filipus Klutiero wrote:

> - Team members must word articles in a way that reflects the Debian project's stance on issues rather than their own personal opinion.

This is not an actual task. I do not think delegations should try telling teams how to do their job, and I do not think neutrality should only be requested from the publicity team... if there is such a thing as neutrality.

> - Finally, the Publicity Team is the official Debian contact point for press inquiries and media people outside Debian. When acting in such capacity, members of the team act as a spokesperson of the Debian Project.


I have never been part of the bits team, nor intensively involved in the others. I have no strong opinion on whether merging is a good idea, though it seems reasonable.
That being said, I really think such a cut would be detrimental. I have been focused on project news, but ever since Joey left, "the team" (we did not talk about a team back then) has been understaffed. Removing most members will certainly push quality and timeliness even lower.

Were members removed because you did not want to grant them press privileges? If so, I think this should be canceled, or the team structure should be complexified to support different accesses for different members. I do not think members would be offended. In fact, this was already the case, and I for one have zero desire to get more accesses.

If you confirm your decision, I will let you be the one to officially remove members from the list.


Neil's answer came the next day. The next day, I replied:

Filipus Klutiero wrote:

> Delegations are not only about tasks, and this doesn't tell them how to fulfil the role. It's a limiting on the scope of the delegation though.

I do not see the neutrality item as a limitation of scope. I do see it as a rule on how the role must be or must not be fulfilled.

If there is concern about releases being controversial or otherwise low in quality, what we need is better reviewing, and this has been discussed before, unfortunately without results so far: https://lists.debian.org/debian-publicity/2011/08/msg00020.html

> I should point out that this text was the one proposed by the team itself: https://lists.debian.org/debian-publicity/2015/08/msg00032.html

I recognize I have not been following closely lately, and I could have reacted earlier, but I did not propose that text, and I see no sign on the mailing list that this text was proposed to project leadership.

>> That being said, I really think such a cut would be detrimental. I have been focused on project news, but ever since Joey left, "the team" (we did not talk about a team back then) has been understaffed. Removing most members will certainly push quality and timeliness even lower.
> This isn't to stop anyone doing any work - I believe that the only actual people who I expect to be 'removed' are Joey, and myself.

First, it would be most useful to have a list of delegations. Failing that, I will guess, since I do not remember seeing a publicity delegation, that you are saying this is the first delegation for the publicity team.

I understand your point - the publicity team has never been delegated, so your delegation does not remove delegates.
On the other hand, the publicity team did exist as a de facto team, as other Debian teams start. I have no problem with turning it into a delegation, nor with removing current members which are determined as undesirable, but delegating omitting existing members effectively removes them. If a decision is taken to remove most of the team, an explanation would help everyone ensure there were no alternative solutions to the problem.

If anyone doubts manpower is an issue, just look at these 3 pages I just consulted - they are *all* outdated, more than 2 weeks after the delegation:
https://wiki.debian.org/Teams/Publicity/#Usual_roles
https://wiki.debian.org/Teams/Press
https://www.debian.org/intro/organization.en.html

And if some think email should suffice, notice the delegation does not even show in our team's mail archive.


Neil was then quiet for weeks. On 2015-10-24, I told him:

Filipus Klutiero wrote:

A new DPN issue has been released. While one longstanding problem appears to be finally gone (only 4 years after https://lists.debian.org/debian-publicity/2011/12/msg00019.html ), the reviewing issue is certainly not. And this is despite half of the persons listed as having contributed to that issue not even being part of the team according to the delegation (this issue has taken a long time to release - I have not verified whether their contributions predate the delegation, or if they chose to contribute despite it).

The situation described in my last mail seems to persist. I do not wish to remain associated in any way with the publicity team in its current state when reasonable efforts are not being done to go forward. Insofar as this makes sense given the current context, I intend to offer my resignation if the situation has not evolved in a month.


His last message came on 2015-10-26:

Neil McGovern wrote:

On Sat, Oct 24, 2015 at 10:58:43AM -0400, Filipus Klutiero wrote:
> A new DPN issue has been released. While one longstanding problem appears to be finally gone (only 4 years after https://lists.debian.org/debian-publicity/2011/12/msg00019.html ), the reviewing issue is certainly not. And this is despite half of the persons listed as having contributed to that issue not even being part of the team according to the delegation (this issue has taken a long time to release - I have not verified whether their contributions predate the delegation, or if they chose to contribute despite it).

I believe it's the latter - you keep insisting that the fact that they're not delegated means they've been banned from doing any work.
This is not the case.

> The situation described in my last mail seems to persist. I do not wish to remain associated in any way with the publicity team in its current state when reasonable efforts are not being done to go forward. Insofar as this makes sense given the current context, I intend to offer my resignation if the situation has not evolved in a month.

I intend to make no further efforts here, you are free to make your own choice on where you work.


I immediately asked Neil to explain:

On 2015-10-26, Filipus Klutiero wrote:

On 2015-10-26 11:46, Neil McGovern wrote:
>I believe it's the latter - you keep insisting that the fact that they're not delegated means they've been banned from doing any work.

What? Did I even claim such a thing once?

In any case, I have tried verifying your belief, but gave up due to the team VCS's breakage... which - ahem - predates the team's halving.


More than 2 months later, my questions remain unanswered. And therefore, as I warned I would do, I hereby resign from the Debian Publicity team (or whatever the team is called now, since that delegation apparently also stripped us from an official name).

Where are we?

A few weeks after this, Laura Arjona finally updated the team's wiki page. The page now lists what it calls "DPL-Delegated members". Unfortunately, things are still far from clear. The page now lists "DPL-Delegated members" and then "Current members". Some of the "DPL-delegated members" are not current members. Most of the current members are not DPL-delegated members. Even Neil, which is expected to be removed by his own account, still figures as a current member.

What happened?

According to Ana Guerrero Lopez's mail, this initiative came from at least Cédric Boutillier and herself. I have not worked much with these, but I would doubt Cédric Boutillier would have intentionally hijacked the publicity team. Considering Laura's edits, I would guess this was an unfortunate accident.

If so, by accepting to delegate without fixing and without verifying, the DPL may have simply done an error. Carelessness would be the only thing he could be blamed for. However, by spreading misinformation and disappearing from the discussion, the DPL has now also failed to fix damage he is (at least in large part) responsible for.

Unless we have a cabal trying to slowly perform a discreet coup, those indirectly kicked out can probably consider that they remain in the team. It remains to be determined how they now differ from "DPL-Delegated members".

Conclusion

2 DPN issues in the last 5 months is not much. There are surely problems for redactors. Solving these may help on the quantity side. Unfortunately, since I can count on my fingers the number of times I contributed content to the news, I cannot say what will help the most.

In general though, the team does extremely bad in recruiting and maintaining its members (either redactors or reviewers). I am not sure I have seen a single DPN issue with proper credits (despite a 2011 discussion of the problem). On the reviewing side, of the hundred issues for which I performed a final review, I could not find any issue or any significant error in about 10. This is not as much as I wish, but it seems the situation had improved with years. I hope whoever picks up this task can keep directing their remarks to the redaction side and eventually make reviewing less necessary. I also wish the team knows how to maintain these recruits for as long as I stayed, or longer. And I hope these will finally benefit from reviewing guidelines.

Other general issues having priority are of course fixing the mailing list and the VCS.

Debian has disappointed me in the last years. In a sense, this delegation is a good thing for me, since I probably no longer have the dedication to the project necessary to care about public relations. I am far from being as involved in Debian as I was when I started reviews, but I may keep reading DPN. Thanks in advance to those who stay… and good luck.

Update 2016-08-21

In his A year in the life of a DPL talk about his DPL term, Neil mentioned his delegation (at 17:45). Since it must have been harder to fix its problems, he seems to have found easier to congratulate this "fantastic" team, since it was "incredibly active and the amount of stuff we're getting now is absolutely wonderful"… even though the team had published merely 6 news issues in the previous year rather than the 52 published a full decade earlier.

Update 2018-05-27

Chris Lamb has updated the team's delegation to reflect the departure of Ana Guerrero Lopez and Cédric Boutillier, which leaves 2 people in the team. Even looking at the year before, the (yearly) number of issues had already dropped to 4 :-(

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