Fedora Podcast Episode 05

Paul Frields talks about the Fedora Magazine

Eduard Lucena:

[00:06] Welcome back to the "Fedora" podcast. I am Eduard Lucena. I'm, right now, here with Paul Frields, former Fedora Project leader. Now, he's a contributor in several teams, and he's the Chief Editor of the "Fedora Magazine."

[00:20] Hello, Paul.

Paul Frields:

[00:21] Hi, Eduard. Good to talk to you.


[00:25] Good to have this conversation with you. The first question I have for you is, for people to know, what is the Fedora Magazine? How is the role in the whole Fedora Project?


[00:34] The Fedora Magazine is an outlet that was originally designed for just general news about the project years ago. It wasn't heavily used for some time.

[00:51] One of the members of the Fedora team, Ryan Lerch resuscitated it, brought it back from the death and started writing news articles for general users of Fedora, just to show them a cool application, an interesting shortcut, or a tip about how to use their system. We found that we started getting a lot of response to those kinds of articles.

[01:25] We used that as the basis for re-launching the magazine and giving it a very specific focus, and that is entirely on Fedora users. What we called a user for the magazine is not just the person who might use the desktop, of the standard Fedora workstation, web browser, or using LibreOffice. That certainly is one type of user, but we are trying to speak also to the software developers who use Fedora as their platform of choice.

[02:08] We're also trying to talk to system administrators who are sharpening their skills by using Fedora. Some of them may be running Fedora for services in certain areas or they might be using Fedora to see what is coming in the future for other enterprise Linux products such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux or CentOS.

[02:36] The magazine is a way for us to reach all of those people who are putting Fedora to use, as opposed to maybe focusing inward on the community. We are really trying to avoid those types of stories, not because the community's not important but because we have so many other places for community members to read that kind of material.

[02:58] We want to focus outward on the very, very large audience of millions and millions of people out there who are using Fedora. Maybe they're even using another Linux platform, maybe they're even using another operating system entirely but they want to know that Fedora may be for them because they can put it to use in all of these different ways.

[03:20] Does that make sense?


[03:21] Yeah, sure. Before the Fedora Magazine was relaunched it was called "Fedora Weekly News," right?


[03:31] Yeah, a long time ago. There have been, actually, a number of Fedora News sites over the years. Way back in 2004, I think. 2004 or 2003, even, there was a Fedora News site, fedoranews.org. It was essentially just a feed of different information that went out that was somewhat automated in nature.

[03:57] Later, the Fedora Weekly News was a site that was meant to capture information about discussions, work or events that went on inside the Fedora community and wrapped them up in a neat weekly report so that people in the community could easily read, consume that and catch up on what was going on.

[04:21] Even if they didn't have time to read every email message or see every announcement, they'd be able to pick up on that news. As it so happens, for a little while, back in, I think, 2005 or 2006, I was doing a Fedora Weekly News podcast myself, just recording it in the basement and sending it out there to Fedora contributors. I only did that, I think it was for a few months.

[04:48] What I determined was the metrics weren't there to justify the amount of effort that I was putting into the podcast. What I've been happy to see is that this Fedora podcast that you've been doing, Eduard, with the Fedora marketing team has been really popular, just leaps and bounds ahead of what I was doing 10 years ago. That's been nice to see.


[05:15] Thankfully, I have a lot of support from you guys in the magazine and also from the council of Fedora. I'm really thankful that I'm being able to do this right now. We are reaching our five...Yeah, this is our fifth episode. I already have at least four more episodes planned that are already scheduled.

[05:45] There are a lot of other people that want to but I need to coordinate when to do the interview and have time to do the edition.

[05:55] A question I have for you is, we have the Fedora Weekly News. We have a weekly post. Right now, we have more than one post per week. In the magazine, we have a schedule to work or we have specific days when articles are published?


[06:15] Yeah. We have an editorial board for the Fedora Magazine. I'm one of the editors on that board. Ryan Lerch is on it, as well. Clement Verna has been working with us. We are always looking for other contributors. Specifically, when you're an editor, one of your responsibilities is to attend the weekly meeting for the magazine.

[06:45] During that weekly meeting we figure out in advance a publishing schedule for the next, roughly, week to two weeks, depending on what other events might be happening during that time. For example, the last meeting that I was at, which was about a week ago, because there are a lot of events happening over this week and next week, we actually planned out our publishing schedule three weeks in advance, which I don't think we've ever done before.

[07:17] We usually play pretty fast and loose and we're very flexible but because there were a lot of people who were going to be away at various times, we decided to set up our schedule pretty far in advance. What we try to do is schedule at least three articles a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We find that keeping up a steady cadence of articles is a great way to engage people.

[07:45] Having said that, though, we're always happy to publish more articles. At the time of this interview, we're talking right now, just as of this week, on Tuesday we had a few articles, including the release of Fedora 28 Beta. Those announcements are always made in the magazine now because it's a very attractive site to bring readers to.

[08:10] It's a nice site to link from if we spread articles to Reddit, Facebook, Twitter or whatever social media that we hit. That way we know that readers are landing on a very nicely formatted, attractive page that makes the Fedora Project look really good, as opposed to having them land on a mailing list posting that is plain text, is not very distinguished or distinguishable from other types of projects.

[08:48] It's a nice way for us to lend a hand. Anyway, we have more than just three posts a week that we've done this past week. We're always open to doing that. We just try and keep up at least a minimum of three a week so that we stay on people's radar and let them know what's going on in Fedora.


[09:10] I'm assuming that these three posts per week schedule can be disrupted with releasing, for example.


[09:22] Yeah, absolutely. We plan for announcements around any major release. The beta and the final GA announcement for any Fedora release, we always publish that in the magazine. That's the standard location that we link everybody to for our announcements.

[09:42] That way, we also can measure the engagement of people. If they come and visit the post we know how many people are coming to view the announcement, which is very helpful. We also disrupt it for other reasons, too. If there is a security announcement or some other sort of special event that merits notice, we will often do a quick post in the middle of the week.

[10:09] We might have two posts on one day. We might be posting five or six posts that week to try and bring some more information around it.

[10:17] An example would be the recent Spectre and Meltdown attacks where we passed some news to the community as quickly as we could about the mitigation work that was going on to make sure that Fedora users and Fedora consumers were not only educated but also could keep their systems up to date and keep them as secure as we can.


[10:45] This was like the case we had with Meltdown, this kind of security holes that need to be published as soon as possible so people can get everything up to date and keep informed of how Fedora is attacking these kind of issues.

[11:09] I have a question. You mentioned that you are one of the editors, we have at least two other editors. Editors doesn't mean that you are the only people who writes in the magazine. Who can write an article in the magazine?


[11:23] That's actually a great point. Maybe I'll take that in two parts. The first part, I mentioned we have a few editors. We're always looking for contributions to the magazine. Being an editor, it's not somebody who is blessed with magical powers.

[11:43] The only thing we look for in editors is that they have more time to devote to the magazine rather than to other contributions, because you do end up spending a few hours a week, typically, on work for the magazine.

[12:00] We're looking for people who have incredibly strong English language skills. They don't have to be a native speaker but they must have a very good command of the English language because we have certain style rules and other quality issues that we want to maintain on the magazine.

[12:20] For example, we want to have proper grammar usage. We want to have the articles be easy to read and that they follow a certain style. It helps if the person who's an editor has a strong command of the English language in order to do that.

[12:34] But, being an editor is not the only way to be involved. Of course, we always want writers. Writers can contribute an article really easily. We have an entire post on the site, or I should say a page on our magazine site, that explains how to go through the process of becoming a contributor. It's really not hard.

[12:57] You have to make an account, and then, essentially, you use the WordPress instance that we run, that's what magazine is based on, in order to write up your idea as what we call a pitch because you're pitching your idea to the editors. The editors will either approve it, or they might ask you to make a few tweaks or a few changes.

[13:24] Rarely we have to turn down pitches because they may not be good fits for the magazine or a good fit for Fedora for whatever reason. For the most part, pitches generally get approved. I would say something like 80 to 90 percent of pitches are approved. Once the pitch is approved you can draft your article directly on the site. It's very easy to do. It's using a standard WordPress interface.

[13:52] If you know how to use WordPress or any editor, for that matter, any web editor, it's extremely easy to write your post. You don't have to know any special markup language. The editors can help with links, and they can help with style or grammar fixes to make sure that your article looks professionally written when we publish it. We'll work with authors on the draft to make sure that it's as good as it can be.

[14:23] The editors will provide a little bit of cover art for it and set up a publishing date for it. It's a really easy process. Eduard, I will provide you the link. If you have a way to include that in your show description or your show notes we'd love it if you were able to do that.


[14:42] Sure. I was a writer myself before the podcast. I have two or three articles, beside my marketing tasks like the posts about beta releases or something. I can say this is not a hard process. The most important part is to be able to attend a meeting when your draft is going to be discussed, to be helped by the team. You guys are really, really good to editing all these articles.

[15:16] An idea that come to mind is if it's that easy to write an article in the magazine, do we have a process or a guide when we can say what can be written in the magazine or what can be not written in the magazine in terms of several licenses, or writing articles about not Fedora related topics, or something like that?


[15:40] We actually have linked from...The guide that I just mentioned is about the process of becoming a contributor to the magazine, but we also use that article to link to an additional guide that helps you write a good article. It helps you make a good pitch. It also has a guide that shows you how to write your article as well as possible.

[16:05] Between those two guides, we provide some help in understanding what will make a good article. What will make something likely to get accepted as opposed to turned down.

[16:20] There is a common misconception among new authors that if they show up to the magazine, that if they're going to write about a specific topic for Fedora users that it can only be about 100 percent free and open source software, and that if it's not in the Fedora repositories we won't cover it.

[16:44] That's actually not the case because we know that users out there are making use of a lot of different software. Fedora, for them, may be a tool. It's only one type of tool in their toolbox. Maybe even open source software, as a whole, may only be part of their toolbox.

[17:03] We try and allow room for people to make choices about what software they want to use. For example, you might find, in addition to articles about Firefox and some of the features that happen there which end up in the Firefox package in Fedora. Of course, Firefox is 100 percent free and open source software from our friends at Mozilla.

[17:29] You will also find occasionally an article that may tell a user how to do something useful using Google Chrome, because we know that something like half our users install Chrome on Fedora and use the official Chrome package for their web browsing uses.

[17:52] We try not to discriminate on these bases because we know that people who are using Fedora have different levels of tolerance for proprietary versus free software. We try to respect that and not make any judgments about that, but instead just try and offer people the information that they can use about solutions that they can run on Fedora.

[18:20] Having said that, we always prefer to receive articles about free software because it's easiest if people can use the tooling that's in their Fedora system already to install new software and use that to solve problems. That's wonderful, but at the same time, we don't require that software be packaged in that way for us to feature an article on it.


[18:50] Cool. That's good to know. Normally people have this question in the IRC and even in the mailing list. People hesitate a lot of writing an article because maybe they're going to write about how to install Skype or any proprietary software that is useful in so many places.

[19:13] For example, I use Fedora in my work in my laptop. I need to communicate with my team via Skype, so I need to install Skype. That doesn't make me not a free software follower, or an open source evangelist like people say. I just need to use a software that is a requirement for my job and I'm not going to be hated about that. You know what I mean?


[19:42] Absolutely. I would say as a project, Fedora tends to be, I guess you would call it...If you were to have a dial and that dial was to allow you to measure at one side of the spectrum maybe very idealistic, and then maybe at the other end of the spectrum very pragmatic, I would say the magazine tends to fall more on the pragmatic side.

[20:11] Our dial is turned in a way that is very tolerant of different kinds of software. Although, of course, we're absolutely focused on Fedora -- we like to focus on free software first -- we're a little more towards the pragmatic side. We understand that people like yourself are using Fedora and they love Fedora. Some of them even like yourself want to contribute to Fedora.

[20:32] They may have specific needs that Fedora -- for one reason or another, or even free software as a whole -- may not be able to meet currently. We try to remember that those people are out there and they're part of our user community as well.

[20:48] On the other hand, Fedora as a project turns the dial more towards the idealistic side, where we really only include free and open-sourced software in Fedora with very, very few exceptions.

[21:04] I think having an outreach-based mission for the magazine is the driver for us to have a more pragmatic approach. In other words, that's dictated by our desire to reach out to the most users possible and have them educated, interested and excited about using Fedora on a regular basis.


[21:30]We have another place where we have a lot of news too, but it's more intended for the community. This is the community operations blog. How is the relationship between the magazine and the CommBlog?


[21:44] That's a great question. The community blog -- or CommBlog as we call it -- is very much like the magazine in terms of being another WordPress-based site. It is absolutely just as easy to be a contributor there as with the magazine. I would say the community blog though is more aimed at exposing items of interest to the Fedora community itself.

[22:17] The Fedora community is made up of thousands of people who are doing different kinds of work in and around the project. Some of them are simply maintaining a package or two. Some people are highly involved in grassroots support work, where they go and travel to conferences, speak about Fedora, talk to users there and get them interested in the community as well.

[22:43] Whether somebody's in that former group or really heavily involved like in the latter group, the CommBlog is more of an attempt to reach those people and make sure that they are aware of a lot of things that are happening in the Fedora community, in and around the community.

[23:02] Those are the kinds of topics that are highly interesting to Fedora community members but are probably not interesting as much to the casual Fedora user. Whereas the magazine might be a route for people to get interested in using Fedora, that is the first step towards them possibly becoming contributors later.

[23:24] The CommBlog is more of an intermediate step. If you're involved in the community or highly interested in the community, you'll find news there that helps you both be involved or more involved in different parts of the community, but also, keeps you aware of what other people are doing so that you can share knowledge, share experiences, and hopefully, inform and consult other people around the community about your activities.


[23:55] That's a really, really good explanation. As being the official news site in the project, do you have contact or any relation with news site anywhere like FLOSS News, or any other big brand of news, or they just come to the magazine and grab the articles you write?


[24:21] I would say it depends. For some venues, we actually know or are in contact with people who run those sites. Occasionally, we might share news with them. We may pick up news that they have run and sometimes link to their articles as well. In other cases, I would say for the very large sites, we're probably more of news source for them.

[24:55] They may pick up our feed and then link to articles that are on the Fedora Magazine site itself. We're actually aiming to be more of the latter, in other words, to be an authoritative source for information that can be quoted or used in other places. We don't expect that every article that we publish is necessarily going to be of interest to a large site.

[25:20] For example, if we're printing a tip for how a person can change a certain setting on their Fedora Workstation to do something interesting that may not be of interest to every large news site out there.

[25:34] On the other hand, when we post an article about the Fedora 28 Beta, or Fedora 28 GA coming soon, when we post those announcements, we do expect that bigger news sites are going to grab onto that and will link back to the official announcement that we carry.

[25:52] We've also seen that happen with other articles as well. For example, our response to Spectre and Meltdown, and some previous security issues of that magnitude generated some links back to our site. We actually do engage with social media as well.

[26:13] For example, when we publish, we typically also spread links to our articles on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and occasionally Reddit, or "Hacker News," other sites like that, so that people can stay informed no matter what channel they use for getting the latest news.


[26:39] That's really nice. Being part of the marketing team like I am, normally I'm reviewing these other sites and I see that they use some of our articles, or even they use the developer announce and mailing list to take information. It's a good target to be the feed of this news because it's official, coming from the project.

[27:12] They're not grabbing news from gossips anywhere. They are coming to the real source of the news and that's a really good thing for the project.


[27:24] Absolutely. We work closely with other community leaders, for example, the Fedora Project leader, or the Fedora community action and impact coordinator. We will work with them on specific announcements, or other pieces that we run from time to time, just to make sure that we've got the right quality and the right quantity of information there, and that it reflects the voice of the project.

[27:59] It's important to us as the official source for news and information that we stay in step with what the community is up to, what they're doing. At the same time, of course, we're also focusing on our audience specifically, getting that information out to them in an appropriate way and in a timely way.


[28:23] An interesting part that I saw all the time in the project is even then, when we have different teams, marketing used to have the magazine under our umbrella. Now the magazine is in a independent team. We have a social media team. We have the engineering part, we have the Fedora Project leader, we have the FCAIC in other parts.

[28:48] How do all these parts work together to produce everything? For example, the better example that I can do is the podcast itself. I record the podcast, I put it in my podcast feeder, but the magazine is totally the platform that serves me to let people know that it's out there.

[29:12] The most followers I have right now in the podcast are coming from people that are reading the magazine because it was posted in Facebook or in Twitter. That is the Fedora social media team -- that is another team.

[29:27] We find a way to engage all the teams together to make this big project to work together on. This is one of the most awesome things to be in this community. Did you have any contact with all these teams, or they work automatically?


[29:49] To be honest, I think to a large extent, they work automatically and come together where needed. Certainly, one of the biggest coordination efforts is around releases. I'd say that's probably where everyone is really working together in concert to try and get one thing done in the best way possible, which is to get the new release of Fedora out the door which happens about twice a year.

[30:19] I think in those cases you find that there's heavy coordination effort required. Around that, it tends to be dependent on what the desired result is. For the magazine, because we are highly oriented around providing user-centric information, tips and tricks, information about applications, information about how to use their system well, some educational information.

[30:53] There's how-to's. We sometimes provide in-depth guides as to how certain systems work in Fedora. That usually doesn't require as much coordination. Honestly, that I think is what makes the magazine a great place for people to start getting involved. Similar to, say, Fedora documentation, you can find an area that you know something about or are interested in.

[31:21] You can research it. You can write about it. You can get published pretty much independently. You don't have to go seek a lot of counsel from people. You don't have to seek advice. You don't have to figure out whether or not your piece is going to fit into a larger narrative because it's about just getting that information out there. It's a self-contained nugget of information that you can put out to the audience.

[31:49] We find that the magazine doesn't require that level of hand holding. At the same time, there are specific goals or specific efforts where we are trying to link up with larger goals of the project. In those cases, we may coordinate closely with other groups.

[32:09] For instance, we have the Fedora Developers Conference annually called Flock. That's where the contributors come together and plan out work for the upcoming year. We usually like to have some kind of output from that event because what is coming in Fedora is going to affect millions of people who use the Fedora distribution of Linux. We like to plan some output around that event.

[32:36] That would be an example where we do have a little more of a coordination effort. But then, on the other hand, somebody can show up and want to write an article about, say, how to use the LibreOffice application to solve a specific kind of problem. They can write that article as a one off anytime that they want and don't need that kind of coordination.

[33:00] It's the best of both worlds, in my opinion.


[33:04] In the magazine, we normally see a consistent looking. For example, all the article have a header image. They have a certain kind of styling when you are typing code, or when it's a command in the command line you're going to throw out. Who decides how to construct the look and feel of the magazine?


[33:38] That information is part of the style guide that I referred to more towards the beginning of the podcast. We have some simple rules for how to markup your article. We don't require that writers memorize any of that or even stick to it. The editors will fix all that when needed.

[34:03] We basically have constructed that to be as simple and easy as possible in a way that matches the style of presentation that we provide on the magazine. The thing that makes our CSS style sheets that provide a look for the computer output and input that users that will see when they're running a terminal application or something like that.

[34:28] We provided a style guide to make it easy for writers to choose the right style for their markup We've put that in our style guide so if they want to learn it by heart they're able to. We try and make it as simple and readable as possible, as opposed to doing large amounts of markup throughout the text, which can actually break it up and make it very difficult for readers to quickly scan.

[34:56] We try and eliminate complexity. We have a simple style markup. There's only a few things that people need to remember that way both the writers and the readers can concentrate on their activity.


[35:10] That's really good. Also, I want to congratulate you and all the team and Ryan Lerch, because the new theme, the magazine really looks amazing. It was implemented two days ago before the recording of this episode.


[35:25] Yeah, it looks fantastic.


[35:26] It looks really, really, really good.


[35:28] I love it. It is like a spruced up new look for the magazine. I thought it looked fantastic before, and then I saw the new style. Not only does it look fantastic but it's also a little bit easier to parse visually. It also looks a little more in line with some of the other Fedora applications platform that's out there that our contributors are using from day to day.

[35:56] It looks like it belongs to the family of Fedora on the web.


[36:03] It really looks amazing. Paul, if you have anything else you want to share with the people outside that you want to tell to the people, please feel free to do it.


[36:19] I guess, first, thank you, Eduard, for having me on. It's been a pleasure talking to you. Second, just remind folks that they can find the Fedora Magazine on your favorite search engine, obviously, or just go to fedoramagazine.org. Definitely check out some of the articles there, get a feel for the magazine.

[36:41] If you're interested in writing something, it's very easy to write for us. Again, you can use your favorite search engine, Google or whatever. Just look for how to write an article for the Fedora Magazine. You'll end up on our guide. It will describe the process that you can go through to become a contributor.

[37:01] We love to have people contribute to the magazine. We look forward to seeing them in future editions and maybe at our meetings.


[37:12] Thank you so much Paul for coming. I know you are always busy. It was a refreshing conversation about the magazine.

[37:20] This was the fifth episode. We try to post every two weeks. Hope to see you later, people. Bye-bye.