Monday, January 31, 2005

Protecting journalistic access: don't offend the talent.

Lots of people, reading this Vunet piece ( from the point of view of Linux advocacy, will have dismissed the article as being written to serve the interests of an advertiser (Microsoft).

They would be wrong.

Sure, the journalist seems to have avoided the chance to ask a couple of challenging questions, instead happy to merely note-and-quote what Microsoft says about Linux, but I would suggest that the passive attitude wasn't driven by Microsoft's status (or otherwise) as an advertiser.

Skipping over the hard bits was more likely driven by the desire to protect access.

The IT media's access to executives is intimately managed (I might add, executives aren't the only ones who play this game; some of the heroes of the industry choose their outlets with just as much care as if they were Bill Gates).
You get an "exclusive interview" with someone like this either because it was offered by the public relations company, or because you asked the PR company (or the internal PR manager) for the interview.

Nick McGrath (Microsoft head of platforms in the UK) certainly wasn't speaking off-the-cuff in the pub, tossing off a couple of informal views. He was participating in the business of media management, issues management, "spin", call it what you will.

Any journalist is painfully aware of this: offend the "talent" and lose your access; the PR isn't returning calls, the executive's PA tells you "well, you'll have to arrange it through the normal channels", and someone else will be favoured with the story.

So you don't offend the talent.

Were it a press conference, for example, Microsoft may have had to deal with a couple of challenges to its assertions.

First there's this: "One myth we see is that Linux is more secure than Windows. Another is that there are no viruses for Linux," said McGrath."

The obvious return-of-serve would be to ask what viruses have caused widespread damage in the Linux world. As far as I can tell, the most damaging Linux virus emerged a couple of years back, a thing called Slapper, and in Australia (ie, here where I'm writing) it infected just 165 machines.

The question went unasked.

I also had to wonder about this pair of comments, which in the article are separated by a few paragraphs, but bringing them together makes the slip-up clear:
- "McGrath said ... customers are dismissing Linux as too immature to cope with mission-critical computing"
- "McGrath argued that recent growth in Linux deployments came largely at the expense of installed Unix systems, rather than replacement of Windows servers."

If Linux is mission-critical enough to replace Unix, it's surely more mission-critical than Windows, isn't it?

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