Bonum Certa Men Certa

Editiorial Control and 'Missing' Writers

In a previous post, I wrote about my personal experiences writing for the press. There is editorial control, there are advertisers, and in one form or another it can be argued that there is censorship. It is difficult if not impossible to cover something that editors disagree with. If it passes, which sometimes it does, it can still be frowned upon and put the role of the publication or writer at risk.



The issues with corporate ownership of the press are ones that were covered here before [1, 2, 3]. We blame this, for example, at the sight of biased reporting that favours and occasionally even glorifies the Microsoft/Novell deal. To an extent, search engines might suffer from the same problem and all of this affects public perception, which in turn influences blogs and even commerce.

In a state such as this, 'dissident' journalists are likely to be actively and passively discouraged from writing. Ingrid Marson, who used to write for ZDNet for example, is no longer active. Others like Peter Galli have vanished as well, but that's a controversial one. Maybe the bankruptcy of Ziff Davis is to blame as well.

Either way, says one reader of ours, "she [Marson] wrote really good stuff. Haven't seen her on ZDNet lately, though I read it less than before. Once the list is filled out, start tracking staffing changes and look for correlations between Microsoft advertising money or other similar influence and departure of the non-shills."

On several occasions recently, we have complained about ZDNet. This (formerly) 'news' site hardly published any articles after the bankruptcy of Ziff Davis. It seems to have also aligned with the Paul Allen-funded CNET. Instead of articles, there are many blog posts there, may of which are outrageous and trollish, by the writers' very own admission (e.g. Jason Perlow).

So who are these 'writers' anyway? They penetrate aggregators like Google News, so they impact public perception.

“There is not even an illusion of balance in reporting at ZDNet”Many of these blog spots are occupied by Microsoft people like Mary Jo Foley, Ed Bott, George Ou, and even former Microsoft employees. Microsoft is reportedly encouraging its employees to also leave comments in ZDNet. The "L'unix" spot is occupied by one who used to back SCO in its actions against Linux (or harass Groklaw) and the "Open Source" blog is occupied by a Windows user, who is usually skeptic and grumpy about FOSS and GNU/Linux. What gives? There is not even an illusion of balance in reporting at ZDNet.

Our reader makes a suggestion. "It would be interesting to track how that occurred and how reporters like Marson were booted," we were told in yesterday's correspondence.

Based on personal experience -- albeit I chose to stop writing in bigger publications for now -- it's the Microsoft advertisements and resistance to publishing articles that contain evidence of crime that can break the camel's back. In general, I simply refuse to write for page space, half of which will be overwhelmed by pro-Microsoft or anti-Linux commercials. I used to protest against it, so turning a blind eye to it now would be hypocritical. The editors may also water down Microsoft critique. How come? A moral shield? Relationships with advertisers?

"I suspected as much," says our reader. "I noticed that the editors seemed to fiddle especially with the titles, frequently putting pro-FOSS/pro-Standards titles on Microsoft puff pieces and negative titles on pro-FOSS/pro-Standards articles. Clever."

That too has been my experience, but they usually ask for permission to modify headlines though. Imaginary examples would be:

"Linux is growing" becomes "Can Linux grow?"

"Microsoft might fund SCO" becomes "SCO: an issue of trust"

It's a case of teasing and provocation.

Further says our reader: "For quite a few years I used to write to the authors and comment. Many seemed to act surprised about it so maybe they didn't always ask permission. I suspect also that each victim has been given the impression that he/she is isolated in their experience and kept down and obedient and quiet in that manner."

And again, based on personal experience, sometimes there are assignments where the editor suggests provocative titles or fear-inspiring ones. It's all about attracting a crowd rather than honestly supporting the very same technologies that the target audience loves. This is unethical.

Our reader continues: "But I figure there are some editors who do that more frequently and / or consistently than others who might be considered more true to journalistic professionalism. The former are ones that would be addressed in my question some months back about what to do about people who have chronically misused positions of authority to steer us wrong about computer technology over longer periods.

"The pre-Microsoft partnership version of The Register used to be rather good about making attention-getting titles without pandering to Bill's anti-American/anti-UK party line.

"Anyway, the mislabeling of articles was enough of a chronic problem that I considered doing a survey but never got access to a proper database when I had time. In my own bibliography, I usually re-wrote the title, leaving the original in an annotation."

'Pesky' writers should not be discouraged from telling the truth in 'the' press. As for myself, I left by choice -- for now. I want to write quickly and publish my findings without barriers and without Microsoft advertisement 'decorating' my objective writing (Shane has mended an error that led to the same issue materialising here at one stage). In Boycott Novell, we now get over 17,000 pageviews per day (and increasing each month, according to Webalizer). It's not as though we're small and insignificant.

Is this Web site considered 'mainstream press'? Of course not. But does that say anything about credibility? Probably not.

Based on my observations, this question should be reversed. If a web site is considered 'mainstream press', does it make it less credible? Well, probably yes, especially given the conflict of interests, the need for provocation, and corporate pressure (sometimes even "placements" [1, 2]).

It is time to change common perception surrounding particular blogs. Being smaller does not make them 'less correct'. Being less conventional than 'bigger' publications has its reasons. The bigger publications have sufficient brainwash power to make the small ones look "insane" because they don't concur. Truth is valued by concrete evidence, not by PR departments.

No Value : Novell

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