September 17, 2002 is looking for more than reviews

- By Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
A few weeks ago we announced that we were accepting reader-submitted software and hardware reviews for and NewsForge, and that we were willing to pay $25 to $50 each for reader-written articles. We promptly got overwhelmed with inquiries. But we want lots more than reviews. We also want to publish reader-written tutorials, HOWTOs, white papers, migration guides, new-user "help" articles, and Linux news.

Everybody wants to review his or her favorite distribution. The problem is, the most popular Linux distributions have already been reviewed all over the place, and if you search our NewsVac section you'll find links to many reviews of almost every popular Linux distribution, and of most high-profile, widely-used Linux programs.

Obviously, it is more useful to Linux users in general if you concentrate on something that hasn't been done rather than repeating others' work unless you can bring a truly unique perspective to an old topic, and this is awfully hard to do. And the purpose of is to provide a central location for as much Linux information as possible, for as many different "kinds" of Linux users as possible, so we'd like to see as much variety as possible in what we publish here, and we feel we can do this best by concentrating on producing information that isn't already available elsewhere.

I mention commercial Linux migration guides and white papers specifically because we get a constant stream of email to from IT managers requesting information about how others in positions similar to theirs have successfully replaced Windows with Linux or replaced proprietary software with Open Source. Yelling "Linux is superior!" or ranting about freedom from software monopolists may be fun, but won't get a business or government agency to change its software deployment habits. Responsible managers need hard facts and figures, along with stories from people who have already moved their operations to Linux or Open Source and have made their departments or agencies run more efficiently as a result of that switch. We -- and I mean "we Linux advocates," not just "we editors" -- need to see lots more articles that reasonably and intelligently advocate more Linux use in corporate and government settings. I would especially like to see articles of this nature from IT consultants who have helped clients make the Big Change, and this sort of article may or may not be technical in nature. Advice on how to "sell" Linux to managers either from inside or outside an organization is needed just as much as specific software recommendations or admin/installation tips.

Filling holes in Linux documentation

Remember that network you got running only after a dozen exchanges on your local LUG's email list? Remember how you wish you'd been able to find a mini-HOWTO or easy-to-read short tutorial that would have helped you? If you needed it, chances are plenty of others also need it. You've solved the problem now, possibly with lots of help and hand-holding, so writing a HOWTO or tutorial that will save others the same stress will be an act of kindness for fellow Linux users.

Remember, even though we'll pay you a few bucks ($25 for 800 words or less) to write documentation that runs on first, we don't want exclusive publication rights. We encourage you to spread helpful documentation far and wide; to make it as easy to find as possible; to get it into the hands of as many people who might find it useful as you (and we) possibly can.

Some of the documentation we publish is read by a lot of people. Indeed, one article in our documentation section has had over 300,000 readers since it was published in March. But popularity isn't everything; we have other HOWTOs and tutorials in our files that have only been read 10 or 20 times, and we don't think they're a waste of server space, because if they helped a few people solve problems that might otherwise not have gotten solved or would have been solved only after hours of head-banging, they've done their job.

A $25 honorarium isn't the point. That's just a little "bonus" for helping the Linux community. If you want to waive it, perhaps in return for boosting your company or home page at the end of the article, that's fine. And while we don't have a mechanism in place to donate that fee to a worthy Open Source or Free Software project instead of sending the money straight to you, nothing is stopping you from endorsing that little check and mailing it to any group you feel deserves it.

What kind of articles are best?

Reviews and documentation were the first that came to our minds. We're also interested in reports from conventions, workshops, conferences, and technical meetings of all kinds. As you may have gathered, our freelance budget is close to nonexistent, but we can often arrange press passes that give free admission to events that would otherwise cost you money to attend. Proven contributors will always have first shot at conference press passes because we can usually only get one or two per event, and event organizers expect to see stories in return for their generosity. If those stories are negative, that's okay. They simply need to be written and published to fulfill our implied obligation to the event organizers, and we have found through sad experience in our years of reporting and editing that only about half of all stories first-timers promise to write actually get turned in.

You may have other ideas for articles that would be useful to and NewsForge readers. Fine. We don't claim to know everything. We're always open to suggestions. And don't forget: Commentaries are always welcome. Even though we can't pay or promise anything in return for them, is, without question, one of the best (and most widely-read and linked-to) places in the world to express yourself when it comes to Linux and Open Source.

Please delay! Don't do it today!

There's no rush. Really. We hope to publish around 10 reader-written articles per week. That's 520 per year. Some may be time-sensitive pieces we edit right away and rush onto the site, but most (especially documentation) can run just as easily a month from now as today. Besides, your first idea may not be your best idea. Sometimes it's good to sit back and let thoughts come to you instead of trying to force things.

Another factor is limited time and resources at our end. We got so many responses, so fast, to our previous call for articles that we could not possibly reply personally to all of them, let alone edit and run all the proposed articles within a reasonable period of time. You may actually have a better chance of getting an article accepted if you wait a bit. Don't worry about someone else using "your idea" first. You'll have other ideas, and getting one turned down -- usually because either we or another site recently published something similar -- doesn't mean we reject you as a person, just that we don't want to publish that particular article at this exact point in time. Please submit other ideas in the future. If we have time, we may even suggest an article idea or two to you, but note the "if we have time" part. Our email load, not counting spam, ranges between 100 and 500 messages per day. We read every message, but sometimes we have to send out "canned" replies just to have time to get the rest of our work done. If you get one of our "Dear reader" messages, it's not because we don't love you. We do, honest. We're just overworked, plain and simple, and trying to do our best to make into the world's best source of Linux news and information, a little at a time, week after week -- and get a little sleep now and then, too.

So I repeat: This is an ongoing program, not a one-shot deal. There will always be new software and new distributions, and new versions of established software and distributions, to review. The need for Linux documentation, HOWTOs, tutorials, migration guides, Enterprise-level white papers, and newbie help isn't going to go away. Rather, it is going to increase as Linux grows more popular and gets more "mainstream" attention. We will be accepting reader-written articles next week, next month, and next year.

Sooner or later we may set up an email group or Web-based discussion forum for authors, but I don't think we're at that level yet.

Or are we?

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