The WordPress project, software, and community are equally important. They all play a role in ensuring growth, progress, and success. A sizeable economy of users, builders, and business owners depends on it. That’s why staying informed is vital. And so much of the reporting and learning opportunities come from unofficial sources. We need more people within the WordPress community who are interested in writing and more places to amplify their voices.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Over the past decade, I’ve written about a lot of web-related subjects. I started with a focus on freelancing — mainly because that’s what I knew best. It was an area where I had experience and felt like I could be of help to others.
However, WordPress soon became my topic of choice. The more projects I built with the content management system (CMS), the more I wanted to share. There was so much to learn and discover.
And the software wasn’t my only inspiration. Having attended my first WordCamp in 2011, I was taken aback at how welcoming the WordPress community was. Not only could I level up my design and development skills, but I also had access to this incredible human resource.
The experience took me from merely building websites to wanting to be a part of something bigger. The community is what made me truly care about WordPress. And I couldn’t help but want to give back.
The Challenges of Writing About WordPress
Writing about WordPress made perfect sense. I wasn’t the greatest developer — but I could share what I’ve learned. I also felt an obligation to ask questions about the direction of the software and how it impacts the community.
Those deeper topics are often difficult to write about. Not only do they require some critical thinking (not my greatest skill), but they also need to strike a delicate balance. Because, while a post may nominally be about software, it’s people that are the real subject.
As such, there are significant challenges in writing about WordPress and its community. What follows are some lessons and observations from my journey so far.
Sometimes You’re Close to Your Subjects
It’s easy to criticize someone or something from afar. For example, there’s a difference between critiquing a random stranger’s parenting style and that of your best friend. Proximity makes a difference.
That applies to the WordPress community as well. While it’s global and we don’t all know each other personally, there are often connections. You may follow a particular person (or their employer) on social media. There’s a chance you use their product or service.
This complicates things — especially when there’s a reason to be critical of a situation. For instance, I’ve written about product decisions that I found questionable. One was a plugin that set itself to automatically update without user consent. Another involved a plugin that blocked access to its settings screen after a user’s license expired.
I use both plugins and have generally enjoyed the experience. Thus, it felt a bit awkward to discuss them publicly. Yet I also felt it was necessary to try and explore various points of view.
In these scenarios, I hope to lay out both sides of an argument and spark a productive discussion. Not everyone’s going to agree — but that’s OK. No rule says the debate has to be comfortable.
You Have To Fill in the Blanks When Covering WordPress Core
Software is difficult to produce and maintain. And when an app is as widely-used as WordPress, the job is even tougher. There’s simply no way to please everyone.
As users, we all have our WordPress pet peeves. In my case, the clutter of the dashboard tends to drive me crazy — especially on content-heavy websites. And the block editor still has several bumps to smooth out.
And then there’s the overall direction of the WordPress project. It’s no secret that a lot of resources have been allocated towards the block editor and Full Site Editing. Meanwhile, this changing landscape can create unease among those who make a living with the software.
Therefore, it’s vital to take a closer look at what’s happening. This empowers the community to prepare for change and allows their voices to be heard as things evolve.
There are several challenges for writers who take on these topics. The biggest is that official information can be very difficult to find. It may require searching through Slack channels or digging up a post from one of several Make WordPress blogs. And, even if you locate something relevant, there may still be some key information missing.
Plus, the decision-making process isn’t always clear to those of us on the outside. A lack of context in this area can lead to speculation. That, in turn, has the potential to create distrust within the community.
Writing about these subjects is a balancing act. You can only work with the facts you have. At the same time, it’s difficult to avoid speculating on how or why a decision was made.
Discussing Project Leadership is Tricky
The structure of the WordPress project can be confusing when it comes to leadership. Matt Mullenweg is the co-founder of WordPress. He’s also heavily involved in its direction.
In addition, he’s the founder of Automattic — a commercial entity that runs WordPress.com, among other products. The company also sponsors a significant number of WordPress contributors.
Speaking of which, WordPress is also free and open-source. It depends on volunteers for virtually everything. Except that some contributors are paid by their employers to do so via the Five for the Future initiative. Got all of that?
It’s a unique and seemingly complex arrangement. The result is a lot of gray area and uncertainty for even avid observers.
While we typically know the project leads for various tasks, there are still questions about who’s doing what, and where decisions come from. Does Mullenweg have the final say over everything? Do sponsored contributors have more clout than volunteers? Where do the interests of WordPress.org and WordPress.com start to diverge?
These are fair questions to ask. And in my experience, they’re very difficult to answer. Once again, the lack of clarity can lead to guessing games.
There Are People Behind the Code
Writers also need to take a measured approach when asking questions or leveling criticism. That’s because we’re not just talking about a product. Human beings make WordPress, and we must consider the impact of what we say.
This is where the fuzzy details on leadership and decision-making make our job more difficult. We may hypothetically posit a question. But taken out of context, it could read as being hurtful or unfair.
The basic rules of journalism apply — even if you’re not technically a journalist (Full disclosure: I’ve had no formal training in this area). But suffice to say that it’s best to stick to the facts. Making accusations without proof or passing along hearsay does you no favors.
And when criticizing a feature or decision, we should include a detailed explanation. Instead of simply stating that a theme “is hard to use”, provide examples of why it was difficult. It’s still important to provide context — even if we don’t always get it from our subjects.
Granted, we all make mistakes. And even the most careful writers will still face negative feedback.
Sometimes it comes in the form of an old-fashioned internet troll. But it may also come from a place of misunderstanding. In that case, I’d encourage engaging on a personal level. An honest dialogue can produce positive results.
Financial Resources for Writers Are Scant
If you want to cover the important issues and happenings in the WordPress community, it takes time and resources. For most writers in our space, these aren’t easy to come by.
There are several online publications dedicated to the CMS and many more that provide at least some level of coverage. But news, analysis, and opinion aren’t necessarily what they’re looking for. Quick tips, tutorials, and plugin roundups get plenty of clicks and are somewhat evergreen. More importantly, they don’t run the risk of rubbing stakeholders the wrong way.
And the few outlets that do encourage in-depth coverage tend to have very limited budgets. They aren’t full-time gigs. Writers often have to piece together roles at multiple publications. This doesn’t leave much time to dig into a topic.
To be clear, I love having gigs at places like Speckyboy and The WP Minute. They’ve helped me to find my voice and feel closer to the WordPress community. But I also consider my situation to be an outlier. There don’t appear to be many opportunities for a writer who wants to take a similar path.
Yet writing is only part of what I do. I’m still a freelance web designer and that makes up the bulk of my income. Writing is a passion and (thankfully) a way to boost my bottom line.
Much like contributing to WordPress core, writing about the software takes some measure of passion. You do it because you love it — not for wealth and accolades.
WordPress Journalism Is a Unique and Important Niche
The WordPress project, software, and community are equally important. They all play a role in ensuring growth, progress, and success. A sizeable economy of users, builders, and business owners depends on it.
That’s why staying informed is vital. And so much of the reporting and learning opportunities come from unofficial sources. These writers help us keep up with the news and teach us how to use new features. They’re a key part of the mission to democratize publishing. I’m honored to play a tiny part in it.
Writing about WordPress isn’t always easy. There can be several obstacles — not least of which is having access to accurate information. But that hasn’t stopped the many talented bloggers and journalists out there from trying their best.
If anything, we need more people within the community who are interested in writing and more places to amplify their voices. WordPress is in a constant state of change, and it takes a dedicated group to spread the word and ask difficult questions.
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This article was published at Post Status — the community for WordPress professionals.