Open Letter – sloppy media

Open letter to Associated Press, Martin Reynolds of the Gartner Group, and the Houston Chronicle.

James T. Campbell, Houston Chronicle Reader Representative,
Scott Clark, Assistant Managing Editor, Business,
Conrad Bibens, Wire Editor – Business,
Martin Reynolds, (VP ?) Gartner Group,
in lieu of an ombudsman contact on the AP web site…
Managing Editors, Associated Press,
Edward Jones, President, Associated Press Managing Editors,
Stuart Wilk, Vice President, Associated Press Managing Editors,
General Contact Address, Associated Press,

There seems to be an unbalanced bias between two articles that ran in the Houston Chronicle’s business section this week and both of which came via the Associated Press.

They were both very small, wire articles and could have been shoved in to fill the gap of a few column inches. One was on Apple Computer, the other on Microsoft – certainly could be viewed as balancing the coverage. But they show signs of subtle bias and laziness in our media; small signs in small articles that reflect upon the whole. They reflect the media as a mouthpiece of the corporations. One has a partial quote that seems to be placed for maximum emotional effect. (Is there a need to keep the readers of a three inch column entertained in the last paragraph?)

The first article, one about Apple’s announcement at a trade conference of a new machine with a new processor. The first two of the three paragraphs are very fact-based and to the point. But I guess you need a quote to “make it an article”. Martin Reynolds had written up an analysis of the announcement for the Gartner Group he is a part of; who better to consult?

Mr. Reynolds’ critique is mostly about the marketing-hype benchmarks that were used. Any time spent observing the computer industry will jade you on these very quickly, and all companies (as he recognizes) unfortunately like to skew their results one way or another. But he also adds “This type of benchmarking casts serious doubt on Apple’s marketing claims but should not detract from a recognition of the solid performance of these computers.”

The quote used is only a partial sentence (7 words) and is not from the original paper he wrote. I can only assume the reporter contacted him, chatted a while, until he got what he was looking for. A phrase that almost exactly contradicts, but certainly misleads about the speaker’s true intention. The AP writer should be chastised for the sensationalism by his editors and Mr. Reynolds.

Though his name in the paper keeps his group and himself more salable, Mr. Reynolds should warn the reporter that future “kneading of the intent” will not be tolerated. Though as a consultancy, keeping business credit by being quoted in an article has value. There is certainly a perception of a conflict of interest. Particularly as business IT concerns are almost always with Windows and Microsoft, he may not care if a bad light is cast on Apple.

The following day, there was another snippet, technology article, likely just another filler in the Chronicle with little else thought about (unfortunately) than the column inch. But it is even more subtle and insidious. It is basically only a mouthpiece for Microsoft.

Bill Gates regularly writes on topics relating to Microsoft, and as a convenience you can even have them emailed to you. The day before the Microsoft article, he wrote a piece on spam. The article is basically a 4 paragraph regurgitation of the email with even a addendum telling us the size of the spam department at Microsoft.

No outside source on spam blocking is sought, no information about other spam blockers (there are of course numerous ones) is given. The fact that Apple has had in their standard mail client for a while what Gates is promising to come, only humors me. That it wasn’t mentioned doesn’t surprise me. That this article is touted as anything other than a press release by Microsoft bothers me.

Do I have a personal preference for Apple over Microsoft? Yes. But I don’t think that fact effects my interpretation of the articles in the “news” paper. I think they speak for themself.

-Bill Shirley

(articles included below)

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: TUE 06/24/03
Page: 6 Technology
Edition: 3 STAR

Apple announces powerful G5 line
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – Reigniting the 20-year debate over who makes the most powerful desktop computer, Apple Computer on Monday unveiled a next-generation Macintosh with features that, up until now, have been found only in workstations.

The new Power Mac, which will go on sale in August, is based on the long-awaited G5 microprocessor. Unlike today’s 32-bit Pentium and Athlon chips found in most Microsoft Windows-based computers, the G5 can process data in 64-bit chunks, quickly accessing large amounts of memory.

Performance is affected by many factors, and analysts were skeptical of Apple’s claim. Benchmark tests that Apple cited “don’t always translate to real-world performance,” said Martin Reynolds, a Gartner Group analyst

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: WED 06/25/03
Page: 10 Technology
Edition: 3 STAR

Microsoft forms team to fight spam
Associated Press

SEATTLE – A week after filing 15 lawsuits against alleged junk e-mailers, Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday it has created a specialized group of researchers and programmers to develop new technological tools to fight spam .

In an e-mail sent to Microsoft customers and partners, chairman Bill Gates outlined the company’s strategy of lawsuits, technology and legislation for fighting spam, which has even been landing in his own e-mailbox.

“Like almost everyone, I receive a lot of spam every day, much of it offering to help me get out of debt or get rich quick,” wrote Gates , the world’s richest man. “It’s ridiculous.”

Researchers are developing “smart” filters that can automatically learn and adapt to spammers’ changing tactics. One version is in beta testing for Microsoft’s upcoming update to Outlook e-mail program, which will be released this summer, said Kevin Doerr of Microsoft’s Anti-Spam Technology and Strategy group.

The group has about 20 researchers, program managers, developers and testers.