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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • During the past two months, I have personally dealt with journalists in print, TV, and radio. Most of the stuff that ends up on the American news is a load of crap. Most of them seem to have the story already written, and they are just looking to fill in quotes. War zones is not the only place that happens though. (Although you might read Ann Garrels' Naked In Baghdad or Jon Lee Anderson's pieces for the New Yorker to get a glimpse of how a lot of news organizations covered the war.)

    Almost anyone can get a press badge to some places (hell, I got one to TPC), whereas other places require you to be a member of the credentialed press---a real news organization. Various groups (police departments, Congress, et cetera) can list an agency as "credentialed" based on their own criteria. A magazine like Linux Today would not have a problem at a tech conference, but probably would not be admitted to the presidential press pool.

    Furthermore, you could be talking to a "journalist" who is really just a guy with a notepad instead of a trained professional with a sense of ethics (or even a trained professional without that sense---yes, I'm talking to you, Times). Katharine Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post, said that ever since Woodward and Bernstein (Post journalists) broke the Watergate story, reporters want to be Woodward and Bernstein. Scandal has become a lot more popular---indeed, you got steered to the SCO thing really quickly---no chit chat to size you up as a credible source---just a name and a quote?

    In any case, if you do not want to be quoted, do not even talk to journalists. Everything you say to them is fair game, including "Could you pass the salt". It will come out that you have a high sodium diet or some such.

    When the reporters from the Rhode Island were sniffing around our camp a couple of weeks ago, I did not even answer "What's your name", and everytime they tried to take a photo with me, I covered my face. The reporter never caught on, but the photographer came up to me later and told me he wouldn't take my photo (so I said "Thanks") and it was cool after that. The stories that ended up in the paper were slightly less than fiction---flag-waving puff pieces, really, to highlight area residents serving their country in a dangerous area. They tried to mention as many names as possible to please as many friends and relatives as possible. It is not always about news. Reporters have jobs because publishers have money because people buy their product. Reporters know this, and reportees sometimes forget. :)

    However, if you do want to chat with journalists, tell them that the conversation is "on background" and be very clear that you do not want to be quoted. Do not be blinded by getting your name in print. They are going to mess it up somehow, whether a misquote or misunderstanding of intent or a spelling mistake. Even if you say something wrong and correct yourself, they may take it out of context---it has happened to me. On background, They might take some of the stuff you said and use it, but they cannot attribute it to you and they should get it from another source. Even then be careful, because they might not actually honor it, and which side do you think the editor will take? You will need money and lawyers for drastic recourse, and guess who has more of both?

    All of that said, realize that the news cycle is not the development cycle. Each has different goals and desires. Realize that the reason a journalist talks to you, even the good ones, is that they want something from you that they can use, and they need it to fit into a story. They are not going to give back to you like some open source user might send you a patch. If you are really the right person that they want to talk to, they will be able to meet up with you later. Otherwise, you are probably just a target of opportunity and the reporter has no idea why he is talking to you and not someone else, and that is a bad way to start.

    Enough cynicism though. Even though someone at an open source conference is not use to being on the defensive (honesty, integrity, and all those other things that we have in the community), remember that journalists come from a different part of the universe.

    • you got steered to the SCO thing really quickly---no chit chat to size you up as a credible source---just a name and a quote?

      Yeah, although I did have one of those enormous ApacheCon badges with the speaker ribbon, so she may have assumed I was important enough. Her story seemed to be to get the "buzz" about SCO at ApacheCon and Comdex, but she just didn't find the buzz she was looking for.

      In any case, if you do not want to be quoted, do not even talk to journalists.

      That's good advice, but I never re

    • When the reporters from the Rhode Island were sniffing around our camp a couple of weeks ago, I did not even answer "What's your name", and everytime they tried to take a photo with me, I covered my face.
      You just didn't want to tell them how to properly typeset your name :)