Four Things Open Source Projects Should Know About Dealing with the Press

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It's kind of funny that I led a panel at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention that I didn't mention at all in my OSCON conference coverage. Perhaps it was due to an unusual dose of modesty. However, in What Open Source Projects Need to Know About Interacting with the Press, which was also illuminated by Zonker Brockmeier, Jennifer Cloer, and Peter Galli, we spent most of an hour sharing advice about the mistakes that open source projects make when they interact with journalists. I won't repeat everything we talked about — I'm not sure if you're that interested (please tell me!) — but I thought it was worth enumerating a few suggestions. These are not, perhaps, the most important lessons, but they are certainly issues that have irritated me.

[ See also: Convincing the Boss to Accept FOSS ]

The first step for any open source project that wants to be discovered is to make yourself discoverable. A journalist who's looking at open source projects to include in an article about, say, Highly anticipated open-source releases coming in '09, won't necessarily have the first idea what your project is about, its current status, or whom to contact. Create a /press page (just like the commercial software companies do) with this information, which can also include ready-to-use screen shots, press releases, and previous mentions in the press.

This is not a matter of us indulging in journalist laziness. When I was working on candidates for that article, I looked at lots of sites, probably over a hundred of them. Several open source projects seemed to have an imminent release, but I couldn't find a straight-up definition of the project, much less an answer to "Why should I care?" or "What're you working on?" Or (be still, my beating heart) someone to contact to ask for more information. Who might actually respond. This month.

Creating a /press page isn't a bad idea even if attracting media attention is low on your priority list. Having the "who we are, what we're doing, and why you should care" info in one place also might help users and developers find out if your project is worth their download time.

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