WordPress interviews are generally uninteresting. Why? Because there is only one Barbara Walters. And she’s not a member of the WordPress community.
So when Jeff Chandler, the man behind the legendary WP Tavern news site, agreed to my request for an interview, I was afraid — afraid of asking a very interesting person the same old boring questions that I’ve seen deflate other interviews.
Then I had an epiphany. Enter WP Chat, where I asked other WordPress people to come up with their best questions for Jeff. And they did…
What got you into writing? — Michael Beil
It started years ago in my teen years when I discovered content management systems via PostNuke and phpNuke. I participated in a clan in the CounterStrike, Battlefield 1942 days and while I didn’t know how to code or install themes, I knew how to use the editors to write content.
I reported on our competitive matches and wrote about news items during the week relevant to the games we played such as updates or new mods. This helped me develop a knack for writing content.
I ended up discovering a blog network site that is similar to WordPress.com called EFx2 which was a blogging project setup by one individual. It allowed me to write about whatever I wanted while being part of a larger community of blogs and people.
I wrote about whatever interested me and eventually, I was hit with the WordPress bug and the rest is history, still being written.
You’re a professional WordPress journalist. How does that feel? — Steven Gliebe
I go back and forth questioning whether I’m a journalist or not. I certainly don’t feel like one. The word journalist is scary because of the serious connotations that comes with it. Journalists to me are those who seek the truth and stop at nothing to get the facts to report the entire story.
While I aim to tell the truth, I wouldn’t say I go above and beyond to get the entire story all the time. I’d rather be someone who writes/reports on WordPress than be called a journalist. I also want to say I haven’t taken a course or class on journalism.
What has been the biggest challenge as a writer? — Matt Medeiros
When I ran the Tavern on my own, I was able to get away with typos, grammatical errors, etc. unless pointed out by commenters. I was able to write how I speak without too much of a filter. In the last two years, I’ve had to change the way I write to be less opinionated and more fact based.
Thanks to a talented editor, I’ve also realized how terrible I am at writing the English language. From misplaced commas and colons to replacing That with Who when appropriate. Not writing how I speak is unnatural and one of the most difficult issues I’m trying to overcome.
My thoughts and opinions are still there, but how they’re written sounds like it comes from someone who’s educated instead of how I’d say it on the street. Despite my opposition to change how I write, two years of being edited has made me a better writer.
How do you decide on long-term goals for The Tavern? Things like new content, new staff, new design/direction? — Matt Medeiros
Sometimes its a discussion, other times it’s a decision and see what happens. As far as content is concerned, I can only speak for myself. I decide what to write about based on the known popularity of the story, my interest level, it’s usefulness to our audience, importance, and other factors.
After eight years of writing about WordPress, I have a good feel and sometimes emotional connection that tells me what needs to be written versus what I WANT to write about.
I’d be interested to hear from Jeff about some of the times he feels WP Tavern (and his actions) have changed the way WordPress developed for the better. How does he go about this and how does he see WP Tavern’s influence being used to continue this in the future. — Neil Murray
There are a few documented times where I feel the Tavern’s influence has helped WordPress for the better. The most recent example is an article I wrote explaining why notifications approved from moderation should be a core feature.
The key is, writing a rational explanation as to why and if a few of the core developers or people get on board, there’s a high likelihood it gets into core. I think giving people a place where they can voice their opinions on a stage like WP Tavern is one of the best ways we’re helping WordPress be a better software product.
At the end of the day, I’m an end user and if I think there’s a user facing feature that will benefit a lot of people, I’m going to write about it.
I’ve been noticing quite a bit of negative sentiment in regards to how the quality of the comments devolves on certain controversial WP Tavern posts. Have you considered more aggressively moderating the comments, suspending/banning certain abusive users, shying away from the more “controversial” articles, or possibly going comment-less? — Leland Fiegel
Yes. In fact, the Tavern now has a comment moderation policy and for the last few weeks, I’ve moderated every new comment. However, I’ve learned some valuable lessons since turning comment moderation on.
I’m going to cover them in more detail in a future post but one of the most important lessons I learned is that not every comment needs to be moderated. I also learned WordPress has several shortcomings related to comment moderation. The good news is that there are tools and services available to pick up where WordPress falls short.
One thing I’ll never do is shy away from writing a potentially controversial article because of what the comments might be like. That’s not the Tavern way.
I’ll admit, the thought of turning off comments altogether is enticing when you spend more time putting out fires because of them rather than writing content.
What other publishers inspire you, outside of WordPress? — Matt Medeiros
I’m trying to get back into reading books but it’s a tough habit to form which is odd because when I dive into a book, I don’t want to stop reading until I’m finished. Similar to many other things in my life, the hardest part is crossing the starting line.
Under the Hood
What are the three most important plugins you use on WP Tavern? — Steven Gliebe
Jetpack because we utilize so many modules on the Tavern. Akismet to protect from the insane amount of comment spam. And Blubrry PowerPress which handles many of the technical aspects to publishing the WordPress Weekly podcast.
What is the main reason you chose Justin Tadlock’s Stargazer theme for the new WP Tavern? — Steven Gliebe
I’ve always had a personal preference with the layout of content that Stargazer has out of the box. It matched the old design’s flow but was responsive by default and provided a fresh take on our content. I’m a fan of Justin Tadlock‘s work and I know without being a developer that anything of his is going to be high quality.
Where is WP Tavern hosted and would you recommend them? — Steven Gliebe
The Tavern is currently hosted at BlueHost on one of their Managed WP servers. Since switching from DreamPress from DreamHost, the backend of the Tavern is fast and for the most part, the site doesn’t take too long to load although it has its moments.
Outside of a few interruptions which is typical with any host, I can recommend BlueHost. As history has shown though, it won’t take much for me to remove that recommendation if service or support levels diminish.
What is your role with Audrey Capital and do you have other responsibilities in addition to WP Tavern? — Matt Medeiros, Steven Gliebe
WP Tavern is my full and only responsibility related to Audrey Capital.
Nemanja Aleksic suggested that Matt Mullenweg as owner of WP Tavern might impose topic restrictions. Do you want to speak on this?
I don’t think Matt Mullenweg as owner of the Tavern will ever impose topic restrictions because doing so would cause our readership to lose trust in our editorial independence.
This was one of the most popular concerns when the community found out Mullenweg purchased the Tavern. I explained to Mullenweg when the purchase was made that if readers lose trust in the site, we might as well pack our bags and call it a day because the site will implode. It’s imperative that he doesn’t interfere with our editorial decisions.
He provides insight to stories when questioned but he has not and does not tell us what or how to write.
If you could do anything (jobwise) in the WordPress community besides writing for WP Tavern, what would you do? — Leland Fiegel
I would be a community manager of a forum devoted to WordPress. A place where I don’t have to write articles with pinpoint accuracy and I can engage with people on more personal level with forum software that makes discussions fun.
Where do you see yourself in ten years time? — Brin Wilson
Working for someone, somewhere. Hopefully I’ve lost weight by then and have figured out a way to put my health first. It would also be nice to be a father.
A hearty thank you to Jeff for taking the time to answer our questions and to those who took the time to come up with great questions.