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News is hard, but we’re making it easier

At the Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) in Budapest in May there were several discussions about the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter, the community-run newsletter for Ubuntu. As many people noticed, the newsletter went through a releaseless period from February through May due to changing obligations and life circumstances of the volunteers. By the time UDS came around two things were made very clear:

  • The process took too long (over 30 human hours per week)
  • The single Editor in Chief model was too much work for a single volunteer contributor (the people who have held this position for any length of time in the past were truly amazing)

We outlined several things that could be done to improve the workflow. Now, in August, we have completed several of these, including:

  • Provide link to “Upcoming Meetings and Events” calendar on the fridge rather than reformatting the calendar and putting into text – this has the added benefit of giving people dynamic calendar links (meeting times sometimes change with short notice!)
  • Link to monthly Team Reports page rather than including the full text (saves reformatting time)
  • Rotate jobs so we have multiple people able to do coordination and releases each week (this also fundamentally changed the role of “Editor in Chief” who had been taking on the burden of coordination AND release themselves)
  • Drop personal introduction
  • Amber Graner provided her massive Link Suggestions list to the team so we have a baseline for checking for news articles throughout the week (my RSS feeder is overflowing!)
  • Nathan Handler wrote publish-uwn-fridge.pl to automate the generation of posts that go to the fridge upon release (all scripts are available at lp:uwn)
  • Nathan Handler also took on the release role these past few weeks and wrote publish-uwn.pl which runs all the release-related scripts and dumps them in a simple directory that can be quickly reviewed and copied into each resource (mailing lists, forum, microblogs, IRC)
  • I reworked some of Nick Ali’s Python scripts for pulling Security and Updates so they now take command line arguments rather than having release and date-specific scripts
  • I also put together a list of summary writers who the acting editor can email each week (see my blog post here for responsibilities and how to get added to the list, we always need more help here)

With these changes we’ve made significant improvements to the time commitment and we haven’t really sacrificed on content, a major win for the team. The investment of time required to collect news articles and write summaries is still high and may still cause us to miss releases now and then, but this is unavoidable. As a whole the team is looking good and for the sanity of our volunteers I’m very happy that our bus factor has improved.

Great work everyone!

Still to do:

  • UbuntuWeeklyNewsletter wiki
    • Make sure workflow is properly documented
    • Confirm team contact information has been updated
    • Review instructions for how to get involved
    • General clean-up for clarity
  • Train additional releasers
  • Redefine team structure and leadership

Fortunately we should be able to work through these tasks without a whole lot of trouble these next few months now that we have freed up so much time from the release process itself.

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