Thursday, November 10, 2005

MS blogger turns on Eric Wilson

Frank Arrigo provided today a non-Scoble demonstration of Microsoft employees' full licence to defend their company against negative reportage by attacking Eric Wilson for an article entitled J2EE, .NET in slugfest in AustralianIT, the Web shovelpoint for the country's most-read business technology newspaper section. The natives were restless in the comments to Frank's rant, one of which was expanded upon in a separate blog entry at The Spoke. The debate went on this morning at ITJourno, an invite-only site for Australian technology journos and PR wonks which includes a daily blog roundup of local tech stories called Epitome. Today's Epitome from Phil Sim (founder of ITJ) and Ian Yates (ex-Industry Standard) led with the above events, concluding thusly:

The scary part of this is that Eric Wilson is actually a developer and has always been one of Australia's most respected technical journalists. If he can write a piece on a subject he knows pretty well and get this kind of vitriolic feedback, it should be seen as a wake-up call to every journalist who strays into the technical realm. Let's face it, there are many, many readers who know a lot more than 99 per cent of IT journalists and they're going to become more and more vocal about technically inaccurate stories.

Almost every tech journalist will have at one time or another, bluffed their way through a tech-laden story. Those days are all but over.
Having met Eric on the odd occasion in my days as an IT journo I can vouch for the breadth of his knowledge and the sentiment of "there but for the grace of God go I". I'm sure an inquiry is being held at News Ltd's Surry Hills offices now, figuring out whether Eric, the Oz's sub-editors or whoever else is to blame for the inaccuracies. I can say that Sun's Laurie Wong is partially culpable for that silly quote about .NET, but it's not Eric's fault for including it in his story. Eric's a journalist, he can't be gainsaying every single quote or otherwise every 15-word quote would require 150 words of background.

More to the point, Eric is one of those journalists who is a programmer first and a journalist second. I mean that in no pejorative sense, as the journalist community needs people like Eric to balance out the concentration of aspirational hacks who slum it (begrudgingly) in the tech sections while they wait to get cherrypicked by the editor to fulfill their life's dream to work on the TV guide or some other lifestyle nonsense part of the rag. The reason Eric has that respect amongst other journos that the Epitome article affords him is that technical articles are hard. Not just because of the difficulty in getting your head around the concepts and nailing the details, but because it's far harder to find a hook for your reader in a stuffy story about competing acronyms than it is for a puff piece on the latest hip CTO's new motorbike. Writing that article must have been like pulling teeth, I don't envy him.

The criticisms of Eric's piece also touch on a common theme of anti-journalist rhetoric these days, which is usually thrown by partisans on either side of a hot ideological debate. Political bloggers love to sink the slipper into journalists for not calling the other side on their flimsy arguments. Obviously some readers who read Eric's piece contrasting quotes from Arrigo and Wong were left with a feeling of something missing in the middle, but it's not his job to impose his own opinions in the piece. That's the bloggers' job, and they seem to be doing it alright.


Blogger Nick Lothian said...

I'm a (mostly) Java developer and I didn't think the story was very good either. Surely Eric should have pushed back on that stupid AJAX comment himself? OTOH GMail is written in Java and there is a real story there - but the story is that it is using all open source compenents and what seems to be a google specific framework, not the complete J2EE/EJB stack.

8:02 pm, November 10, 2005  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

Nick, my personal experience of Sun PR people is that they don't know how to clearly state the difference between their proverbial and a hole in the ground. I don't know what went on in that interview Eric did with Wong, but I'm quite prepared to believe that what Eric quoted was the least worst of a very poor lot of unsubstantiated ambit claims.

I hope to see you at a future Long Tail Camp!

8:49 pm, November 10, 2005  

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