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This interview series began as a small offshoot of my Wikipedia contributions, greatly overshadowed by my photo uploads. As the months have gone on, the interviews have become more important to me and they might even overtake my photo taking at some point. The inspiration for this project begins before I even actually started contributing to Wikipedia. A few years ago, I had thought up something called PLOW, or the Portrait Library of Wikipedia. The idea behind PLOW was to create a standardized portrait gallery of notable people. When I was brainstorming for PLOW, I had thought about the idea of using my proximity to notable people (I live in NYC) to interview them as well, because if I was taking their picture, maybe I could verify facts on their Wiki pages while I was at it.
The idea of interviewing people for Wikipedia had been in the back of my mind for a while, sitting there while I was gaining traction and experience with Wikipedia through my photo contributions. I'd had some minor experience in the past with interviewing, which helped push the idea along. One of the things that I used to annoy my friends with was to sit down and record a conversation with them. I have a propensity to inquire and ask endless questions of people, so officially interviewing seemed to be a natural and easy step up. The more that I do it now, in a more professional setting, the more that I've been enjoying it and looking forward to continuing it.
Interviewing for use within Wikipedia
I'm posting this here because I've already seen some trepidation to this project, so I wanted to fully explain how these interviews are used and how they fit into Wikipedia. I want to show how I see the interviews can be used within Wikipedia's rules and guidelines for biographical pages. As with all debates over rules on Wikipedia, I advise people to study the material and go with their gut feelings.
The purpose of this project is to expand and clean Wikipedia biographies by creating a reliable source for citations. This is accomplished through the use of in-depth, long-form interviews carried out with people for use in their own Wikipedia biographical pages. The interview itself is a minor part, as the whole is still based a multitude of other published sources, and is not meant to be the entire source of a Wikipedia biography. The interview functions as a direct way to verify and tie a timeline together. It is a very proactive approach in line with my photo projects, which is just to go out and create content if it's not available otherwise. In this case it's through the use of interview transcriptions and taking or obtaining photos for use in biographical articles.
I record all of my interviews and transcribe I use a Sony PCM-M10 audio recorder to record all of the interviews, either through the phone (with an in-ear microphone adapter) or with two Sony ECM-44B lavalier mics in person, then make the transcription based on that. I prefer a text transcription over audio due to it's ability to be searched, cited and skimmed much easier than with audio. The interview transcription is then placed here with all of the relevant information pertaining to place, circumstance and date.
Biographical Articles vs Historical & Scientific Articles
Biographical articles within Wikipedia are a very different type of article than most of the regular articles on Wikipedia, like a historical article (history of Easter Island) or a scientific article (the states of matter), which are events or ideas that require much debate/study and that necessitates the need for secondary sources by experts who have studied the material and are subject to peer review. Biographical articles differ here because the best expert on someone's life will always be that person himself. A person will always know information like where they went to school, who their parents are, things they did growing up, people they've met, things they've done, reasons behind their actions in life, etc., much better and accurately than other people would.
It's easy for a person to spot errors in their own biographies, but a person shouldn't write their own biographies on Wikipedia, due to the rules here which outline things like positive bias and issues with neutrality. There's also the problem with most of that information being contained only in the person's head, which means that there are no citations or published accounts of events occurring and that would make it constitute original research.
Original Research, Definitions & Debate
Original research, as described here is basically the synthesizing of different sources to reach conclusions or to state facts & information for which no published sources exist. The page there gives examples of what or what is not acceptable, but still requires common sense or experience for the most part. Likewise for the definition of primary sources, because the definitions there are primarily based on the idea of being used within historical or scientific articles.
A point of debate and contention particular to this project would possibly be if you consider these interviews to be "published," which I do consider them to be just in terms that an interview transcription is going to be the same no matter if it's in the Rolling Stone, a newspaper, a music blog or elsewhere, and in this context publishing to me means that it exists. The general guidelines for biographical articles are listed here, which should be read for policies and cautions, but the area to focus on is listed here, which is below as follows:
Living persons may publish material about themselves, such as through press releases or personal websites. Such material may be used as a source only if:
This is the basis of which I try to use the interviews for, within use of the subject's own biographical pages. This is equating the idea that the interview is the subject's own words, as the use of interviews is never explicitly mentioned in the lists of source rule guidelines, other than being a primary source, which is one of the hazy debates about rules and semantics that one can get into. To me, if you determine an interview will be a subject's own words, you have to exercise caution, good faith and common sense about what or what isn't appropriate from such a source. To use an example, if a person mentions that they were married last year or went to a certain high school, then they almost certainly did, unless in the rare case a subject has some history to doubt them. Obviously, you don't want to base an article solely on a single source or interview, so the use of proper citations and a wide variety of sources is always important, as with any article.
Interview/Article Prep & Write-up
The first step (usually) is to contact a person's management and ask for an interview. If granted, then I begin to collect information for improving their article and for interview research. As when beginning or improving any article, the first step is to find reliable/published sources to use within the article for inline citations. Interviews, bios, blurbs, features, press releases and/or personal blogs have to be gathered and assembled to form a timeline and history for the article. For me, this also creates the basis of the interview that I use to help verify the validity of the timeline. "Event A is listed in one article, while event B is listed in another, but which occurred first?" is an example of one of the goals from the interview.
The interviews usually last an hour and I cover the general history of the subject as based around the research or on points usually covered in a standard Wikipedia biographical article. Since I've only done a handful of "official" interviews at this point, I'm still trying to figure out a style or way to handle it. When I transcribe the interview I analyze how I did and things that I can do to improve in the future, whether it's straying off point too much, staying on point too much, asking too many questions at once, etc.. The most difficult part of the interview is getting proper names correctly, which sometimes requires follow up after the interview. When typed up, the interview is usually about 7,000 to 9,000 words long. It's work, but it is nice in the sense that you rarely ever get to see the full interview from a person. Most feature articles and artist bios are based around long-form interviews, but never posted due to an article focus, the effort to transcribe it or the fact that they're so long.
The reason that I post them here on Wikipedia rather than starting my own blog is due to seeing so much link rot in other articles and because I feel it makes them more accessible to people really interested in reading them.
Purposes & Other Thoughts
When I collect sources for most bio articles I'm always surprised by the difficulty in just finding sources. Many of the artists that I've spoken to have sat down for dozens of interviews, but finding them all (or even just some of them) can be very difficult. If you can't find those interviews with a moderate effort of explicit google searching, I'm not sure how anyone sees, finds or reads those interviews and articles. Wikipedia articles almost always come up first when internet searching, which is why having them done well can be so important, because most people won't put much effort into researching someone past that. Knowing this is one of the big driving forces with trying to improve bio articles for me.
Also, most Wikipedia biographical articles that I've come across are written very poorly or not based on citations at all, or based on citations with non-working links. Some of them are also thinly-veiled PR shills.
I've tried to explain my purposes here and how I try to use these interviews within the confines of Wikipedia rules. You'll have to look through these, how they're used within the articles themselves and use your own common sense to come to your own conclusions. As with anything, I'm sure there'll be debate, but at the end of the day I'm just concerned with making good articles and creating content. I think that these interviews, which are records of personal history, can be very helpful and beneficial to not only Wikipedia, but to historical archives as well.
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