Thank you Cindy

I’m emotionally crushed.  For the second time this week, I had to write an obituary about a female Wikimedian involved in addressing the movement’s gender gap.  Wikimedian Cindy Ashley-Nelson died at the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin early yesterday morning.  Her death follows that of Wikimedian activist Adrianne Wadewitz who died earlier in the week after a rock climbing accident on March 29.

Both women were inspiring in terms of their leadership, their contributions to Wikipedia while being active behind the scenes in movement governance, and their dedication.  Like myself, both believed that contributing to Wikimedia projects could change the world, and that knowledge is power.  Their individual contributions embody that.

While I did not have personal relationships with either, they served as role models in the community and brought attention to issues in the community as insiders that would not have otherwise been possible.  They participated in an environment that can at times be incredibly hostile towards women while being very successful.  I cannot easily see how the holes they left will be filled. 😦

I am thankful that in their lives, they spent time contributing.  I hope they can continue to live on forever in the collective community memory.

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Cindy, in memoriam

Vale Cindy. Your efforts in the movement will not be forgotten.

Walk the Talk

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Cynthia Ashley-Nelson died yesterday. She was attending the Wikimedia Conference as an AffCom member, and on Thursday had participated on her first annual AffCom meeting. The news about her death have surprised and shocked the people at the conference. I realise there are many people who might not be familiar with her, so I wanted to write a few words about her and the impact she made on those who knew her.

In my role as Board liaison to the Affiliations Committee, I had seen Cindy, as her friends called her, apply to become a member, and how she was finally elected to the committee. She had such a solid background, so relevant to the work AffCom does, she was such strong candidate, it was a no brainer for AffCom to elect her. They were not disappointed. Cindy was participative, incredibly engaged from the first day on the work of…

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“He had two knives” or when is a fact a fact?

When is a knife a knife?

“He had to knives” and “Police said he had two knives” are two separate facts. One of the problems some new journalists on English Wikinews is recognizing what is a fact, and the above is a classic example. It is really easy to write opinions or assertions as facts without intending to.

A fair amount of Wikinews writing is synthesis writing.  We may not be able to verify the facts ourselves by talking to sources, witnessing an event ourselves, or reading the original source material.  It is really important to understand the facts that the sources we have present to us. If a source says, “Police said he had two knives,” the source is asserting that it is not a fact that he had two knives.  The fact is the claim.  This is very different from a claim of “He had two knives,” where “he had two knives” is the fact.

This might seem like a minor quibble, but it has the potential to be hugely important.  Picture a court case.  All the evidence is clear: “He had two knives” which he used to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Lots of people saw him with two knives.  There were two dirty knives in the sink which had his fingerprints on them.  He admitted to having two knives, and using them to make sandwiches. There was a picture of him using two knives to make a sandwich.  His name was engraved on the  knives.  We know those knives are his.  That is a fact.

In other situations, this may not be a fact.  There was no picture of him with two knives.  They did not have his fingerprints on them.  The knives were not found in his house.  He denied that the knives belonged to him and that he used them to make a sandwich.  On the other hand, the police claim that he had two knives.  In this case, maybe the knives do belong to him.  (He could have wiped down his fingerprints, taken the knives out of the house, lied about not owning the knives and not making a sandwich.)  What we do know as a fact is the police made this claim.

These finer points do matter, and they impact how people understand the news they read.

Vale Adrianne Wadewitz

The Wikimedia movement is both very large, and very small. I never had the pleasure of meeting Adrianne Wadewitz but I was very aware of her work and her role in promoting the inclusion of women as participants and topics of articles on Wikipedia. She was very effective at drawing attention to a problem that needs attention, at a site where people sometimes form their core base of knowledge about a topic. Thus, it was sad news to learn of her passing this morning. 😦 She did great work and appeared to do so without alienating a lot of people, something that can be very difficult to do in the Wikimedia community. Her contributions to making Wikipedia, and the world, a better place will be missed.