• The Technology News Report: Does Anyone Remember Research?

    September 19th, 2006

    As my son enters his junior year as an undergraduate majoring in both journalism and political science, one of his courses covers research. This may seem a trivial issue in a world where the word “Google” is a verb for online research.

    But it’s not always that simple, and someone who makes a living reporting news in a specialized area, such as technology, ought to be able to reflect a good understanding of the industry in their writings. Alas, that’s not always true in the real world, which is why you see stories that merely regurgitate press releases, or add a canned comment or two from someone a company might regard as an “industry analyst.”

    Now before I go on here, let me make it perfectly clear that this site is more commentary than journalism, which gives me a few privileges. I can, for example, express my point of view without having to pretend to be fair or objective, although I try to do that in reviews and articles that are presented as straight coverage.

    Good reporting is not just accurately quoting the company spokesperson or summarizing written material. The journalist should provide enough background information in a longer piece so the reader has a little perspective. These days, when Apple, Dell, Microsoft or another technology company has a new product announcement or corporate statement, you can read five reports and glean the very same information and not much more. That’s sort of wasteful, and people like me, who read lots of stuff every day, can get tired seeing the same stuff, particularly when claims or statements are made that are just not true.

    Take for example those oft-quoted comments that Macs are more expensive than PCs. Some recent reports covering the Mac Pro provided favorable pricing comparisons compared to a Dell, which merely reflects known facts. At the same time, this was offered as something new and different, with the writers ignoring the real truth, which is that Macs have been priced very close to comparably-equipped PCs for quite some time.

    When Apple VP Philip Schiller attacked the myth of the boutique-priced Mac at the WWDC last month, he wasn’t saying anything new. While the Mac Pro is priced more favorably than other recent Macs, this was only the latest example.

    Had certain tech writers done their research, it wouldn’t be necessary to repeat the same story over and over again.

    Then there are those stories about the increasing dangers of malware for Mac users. Again, this is an old tale, but how many of those reports you’ve read point out that the Classic Mac OS actually confronted a few viruses from time to time over the years? If anything, Mac OS X, because of the enhanced security of a Unix-based system, is less vulnerable. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t leaks that need to be closed from time to time, and the fact that those leaks haven’t been exploited is a tribute not just to good programming, but probably more than a little luck.

    When a minor malware infection was discovered earlier this year that affected a small number of Mac OS X users, for example, it was touted as something new and different, something that never happened on the Mac platform before. Surely this was a danger sign, that things were only going to get worse.

    As we all know, they haven’t. It’s wrong to say that Mac users face an immediate threat, just as it’s wrong to say the platform is immune, or presented as immune. Real malware may appear from from time to time, so the watchword is be ready.

    For all the criticism Microsoft receives about its sordid security history, I will say, to be fair, that it seems they are indeed trying to make Windows Vista more resilient to malware threats. They are doing the same thing that has been the hallmark of Unix-based systems for years, which is not to operate full time in so-called “root” mode, so you have to give permission to do such things as install software. Think how many Windows-based infections would have been avoided if Microsoft designed their OS that way a decade ago, and think of how many billions of dollars have been lost by businesses because they didn’t.

    What do these tech writers say about that?

    I’m not saying they are incompetent, however, or biased. But it’s easy to become lazy in the rush to meet a deadline. A little research never hurts, and it involves more than a quick trip to Google. My son is learning that. Maybe these folks will as well.

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