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August 11, 1997updated 03 Sep 2016 4:25pm

PUBLISHING AND DAMNATION – THE PROS AND CONS OF ‘SMOKE’

By CBR Staff Writer

LETTER

From Dave Nagel, president, AT&T Labs, responding to our piece Who Needs Real Products When Diba Told such a Good Story (CI No 3,218).

Why stop at saying that the mainstream media is/should be the fall guy for failure to ferret out Diba’s failings – ALL the media – including Computergram – is responsible. In fact, and in particular, the trade press should be ashamed of itself. From Red Herring to you folks, the sad thing is that this episode points out how content free much of what passes for analysis in the media actually is. Actually, forget analysis, let’s go with simple ability to reason for starters. It was obvious from the very beginning that Diba was blowing smoke since the press releases about those incredibly (literally in this case) wonderful products began so immediately after the company’s formation, there could not possibly have been time to create anything of value (software or hardware) in such a short timeframe. So, it literally HAD to be smoke. Why this singular observation escaped the attention and understanding of so much of the media constitutes a vivid indictment of what’s wrong with the press – whether mainstream or trade – trendy, shallow, and often downright shoddy. Do you guys ever actually visit the companies you write so glowingly about and ask to see something – anything – actually working? Frankly since your product is supposedly information (opinion might be amusing but isn’t particularly valuable to someone like myself trying to make business decisions), you should take a long and hard look at how that product actually gets created. If your opinions are not informed, then they are of decidedly less value to me. At least the mainstream press can always just say they’re trying to sell out the next issue. I expect not to believe 90% of what I read there. That’s not the case with your publication. I suppose that MS’s purchase of the gassy WebTV (which I believe you may also have extolled once or twice, despite the fact that they never did actually SELL much of their product or service) for hundreds of millions and the current Sun purchase of THIS gasbag suggests that you are not alone in not doing your homework. But then, I’m not buying my information from them…

REPLY

Hi Dave, thanks for taking the time to write and express your opinion. We plead not guilty, and we’ll explain why in a moment. But just as importantly it may help all of our subscribers if we examine your argument in detail. Why stop at saying that the ‘mainstream’ media is/should be the fall guy for failure to ferret out Diba’s failings – ALL the media – including Computergram – is responsible. Not true. We never subscribed to the Diba cult, never wrote a glowing profile of it or its bouncy founders, and simply reported when the company did stuff that actually wasn’t all vapor. Our first story on Diba’s creation (CI No 2,902, April 29 1996) was a totally straight news announcement of the formation of the company and was bereft of any superlatives whatsoever. A model of restraint in comparison to the rest of the trade press! But only a week later, when we wrote about the halo effect Diba had had on Zenith Electronics Corp, an early supporter of the boys, we were already using phrases like The Internet fairy has waved her magic wand (CI No 2,908, May 8 1996). Our next mention was again a completely straight and perfectly appropriate news story reporting the deals the company had signed with major players like NEC Corp, surely deserving of being brought to the attention of our readers (CI No 2,978, August 8th 1886). But we soon started to treat the thing with a certain lack of gravity, calling it the company formed by Oracle Corp refugees who believe that $500 is much to much to pay to put the coffee machine or the toaster on the Internet, (CI No 3,002, August 19 1996); or the company formed in Menlo Park, California by Oracle Corp refugees to enable manufacturers to put your electrical appliances on the Internet (CI No 3,004, November 11 1996). Our subsequent stories matter-of-factly reported announcements Diba was making which almost always involved significant public companies, like (June 1997) AT&T WorldNet (aha!), Bell Atlantic Internet Solutions, Best Internet Communications Inc, Concentric Network Corp, Earthlink Network Inc, GTE, IBM Global Services, Metricom, Pacific Bell Internet Services, PSINet Inc, and Southwestern Bell Internet Services Inc. Granted a lot of these announcements mean zip in practical terms, they are still useful for investors and observers of the industry to know about. This episode points out how content free much of what passes for analysis in the media actually is, you go on to say. Fair enough – but let’s make sure we understand what analysis is and what news is. It’s our job to report what companies do, even if we think it’s dross, because we are first and foremost a newspaper – look at our masthead: THE DAILY NEWSPAPER FOR DATA PROCESSING, COMMUNICATIONS AND MICROELECTRONICS PROFESSIONALS AND INVESTORS. What Computergram – along with the rest of ComputerWire’s publications – does is to offer opinions and comments in the appropriate tone of voice, often in a clearly demarcated separate zone from the actual news announcement. The other way is called editorializing, a skill most successfully practiced by the former editors of such objective publications as Izvestia, Pravda and the Voelkisher Beobachter, which provided a very useful service to their readers by telling them how to interpret events according to the correct ideological position. At the end of the day, how many articles did you read last week like the one we wrote about the demise of Diba? We plead that you continue to trust us and treat us as your information delivery vehicle for the facts that happened that day, plus as often as appropriate our hardheaded views on what those facts mean. But if we don’t… call us on it – for then we wouldn’t be doing our jobs or deserving one red cent of your money.

Sincerely, Gary Flood, Editor@Large/West Coast Bureau Chief, Computergram International.

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