Journalistic responsibility, a case study

Thursday, 21 November, Year 5 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

mircea_popescu: asciilifeform hey, what ever happened to that guy working on the magical badvirus thingee ? I think my wafflemaker is trying to infect my fridge with these patterns right here.
asciilifeform: Perhaps the lsd wore off.

mircea_popescu: Poor guy.

You see, a coupla weeks ago Ars Technica fucked upi and made a big deal out of a whole lot of nonsense : some guy by the name Dragos Ruiu - who a decade or so ago made a name for himself by organising the pwn2own conferences and otherwise put a lot of effort into showing just how broken, deceitful and scummy Apple actually is - went a little off the deep end and started seeing bugs crawling all over everywhere. Which, as you perhaps know, is one of the classical symptoms.

Ars Technica failed, because that's what reporting is all about : filtering the signal out of the noise. Previously respectable security conference organisers (afaik Ruiu was never a researcher himself, and this distinction is important) going into full retard mode don't qualify as signal in any sense, and so it was the job of Ars Technica to have passed on that story. Instead, they ran it, and in running it they failed at the single one thing they're supposed to do. They're not here to entertain, they're not here to dangle Marco Polo's stories of the enchanted East before a smelly crowd of peons. Their job is to take a Terrabit/second pipe of nonsense and turn it into a kilobyte per hour dribble of good stuff, so we're not all stuck paying for our own intel services to summarize reality for us. That's it, that's what they're for, strictly that.ii

So what does one do after they fucked up ? Well, before we answer that, let's consider what Ars Technica in fact did. This :


That's right : a screenshot of a Bios screen superimposed on a stolen picture of a skull. This is what they did. On top of which, for good measure, they added a bunch of 10 cent words about absence of proof not being proof of absence, and general dickery they can scarcely afford. Why ? Well, because they bank on the theory nobody's calling them on it. Ever.

How does that work ? It works like this : the reporter that ran a dud story needs to keep good relationships with the researchers. Consequently, he's not going to write the proper follow-up, something that reads roughly like "Sorry we fucked up dear reader, this guy is retarded and we didn't catch it in time. We took X Y Z measures to prevent this sort of breachiii from ever happening again" because he's afraid that might mean those researchers get collectively butthurt and won't talk to him the next time. Dragos Ruiu is definitely going to get butthurt if anyone ever says it in the open, like I have. Schneier definitely got butthurt when I did, to the degree of gingerly making general inquiries about what people think on the topic on his blog, carefully not mentioning which are the "some people" that got him all worried.

Consider the choice : either print the truth, in which case some dude will be upset, or do not print the truth, in which case some dude will be happy. As presented, this is an extraction engine, it allows you to create value at no loss!

This happens to also be thermodynamically impossible, for the record. Any time you create something, you use up something else. There's never in nature this case where you sprout value out of thin air. So, let's see if we can uncover the hidden externalities in this "success story", let's see if we can find what's expended to create the "win-win".

What could it be ? Could it be integrity ? Could it be that the reader's legitimate interests to be properly informed are getting shafted so that the reporter's illegitimate interests to acquire favour and the subject's illegitimate interests to misrepresent reality may be fed ? By Golly! I think we've got it, this is exactly how it works : every time a journalist behaves without integrity he is stealing from all his readership in order to split the loot with the untruthful subject of his article. Which means the more high value, high power, important readers move on.

To Trilema.

So you lose 5 out of 500`000 readers, big deal, right ? They do happen to be the people who control 50% of the wealth of that 500`000 group, but what's wealth, right ? Illegitimate theft and plunder, we want headcount, or at least that's what the advertisers say, and they're the ones running this show. These days. They're the ones running the show these days, right ?

And from there on the engine filters downwards, much like Obama's change : soon enough you're stuck printing stolen skulls with (unreadable) overlays because that's what your audience wants, connects to and has come to expect. Such a cruel fate, really, you went to school to be a journalist, curate the truth, be respected, and just because you skipped out on that musky old Journalistic Integrity 101 class to participate in women's issues seminars you're now to be stuck writing for the special needs crowd ? And make about as much money as a public school teacher ?iv

How unfair.

  1. By no means the first time this year, or this decade. If one were to calculate the ratio of fuck-ups to actually informative, useful articles it'd come to a pretty close approximation of "how many Bitcoins does a dollar get you". By no means the only ones, either, Wired is no better, crunchbase is no better. All the trade rags, and all the wanna-be trade rags a la Vice consist of a long collection of fuck-ups with the occasional smattering of cheaply paid-for placements. The last actual article might have been published sometime in 1998 or thereabouts. []
  2. And before you go into the entire "nobody could have foreseen" nonsense : yes, they could have, and yes, they in fact did. It's a very transparent, and very pathetic attempt to shift responsibility this, "o, nobody could have foreseen that if I eat yet another spoonful of sugar I'll be fat forever". Sanity dogma and all that. []
  3. It's a breach. If someone drives a tank into Fort Knox that's a breach of Fort Knox, because what they principally do there is keep unauthorised tanks out. If someone drives his cock up a nun's cunt, that's a breach of the nun's vows, which principally go "and I shall not allow unjesusy cock up my snatch, oh Lord". If someone (ie, press agents, mostly) gets a dud story into the paper, that's a breach of journalistic responsibility, which principally consists of not letting nonsense into print. []
  4. I'm joking, of course. The average joker working for Ars Technica or any other similar outfit doesn't actually make any money, they just get the occasional catered fry and a whole lot of talk about "potential", "perspectives" and so on. This while the debt piles on top of itself, rich, creamy, delicious. []
Category: Trilema Presei
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