Feb 042011

Back in August, I published a post highlighting what I felt was inaccurate technology reporting relating to my client Neustar. In that case at least I got a reply from the publication, albeit a very disappointing one. It happened again last week, and I didn’t even get a response from the reporter.

Context – on January 26 the Mail and Guardian web site in South Africa came under a “hacking attack” and as a result the site was taken down. Here’s the story from online publication News24.

Also included in the story was this hypothesis of the cause:

“M&G is hosted on the American server UltraDNS and they have been subject to a massive amount of attacks last year.”

Ultra/Neustar’s global infrastructure had seen no sign of any DNS attack, so after seeing the story they reached out to the M&G. Not only did the attack have nothing to do with DNS, but turns out Neustar helped M&G mitigate the attack very quickly. Here’s the email from their lead online guy:

Hi John

Thanks for the email. We were hacked via flaws in our PHP code, and not via the DNS at all – the author of that article is completely misinformed. We are hosted at RackSpace, who obviously have nothing to do with you. I would request a correction from News24 if I were you.

If anything Neustar has saved our butts today, because it allowed us to switch our domain to uninfected servers so quickly.

Thanks again

Digital Platforms Manager
The Mail & Guardian

Wow, that’s pretty straight-forward, with even the customer suggesting Neustar ask for a retraction. So, I reached out to the reporter Duncan Alfreds via Twitter, hoping to share this information with him.

I was polite, and was careful not to criticize him — he probably didn’t know any better, and I hoped he’d be interested in the facts:

@Duncan025 — Hello, you’ve got the Mail and Guardian story wrong. Can I share some info with you? 3:14 PM Jan 26th via web

Unfortunately Duncan didn’t get back to me. There are so many online pubs today and they don’t make it easy to contact them in cases like this one. With News24 based in South Africa, it wasn’t in my publication database. So I don’t know who his editor is – if he has one.

The awareness of DNS has increased greatly in the past few years, which is a really good thing. It’s encouraging more people understand how important this fundamental protocol is for the Internet to function. And of course, there are still some really good tech reporters covering the industry.

But there are a lot fewer of them today, because of the inability of the media industry to identify a business model that works for online publishing. Too many of the reporters that replace these veterans don’t understand their technology beats. And they don’t care enough about getting the story right, even when you try to point them to the facts.

  2 Responses to “More Lousy Technology Reporting”

  1. I easily found contact info for News24’s staff, available at the bottom of the News24.com site’s “About Us” page (http://n24.cm/dp8Fu2). The site doesn’t list e-mail addresses, but you can always experiment with common address formats such as DuncanAlfreds@News24.com, dAlfreds, duncanA, or Duncan(dot)Alfreds.

    Given that his editor is listed there by name, I don’t understand how you could have failed to identify whom to approach.

    I’m sure you could have found more-complete contact info by contacting SAPA, the S. African Press Association, or inquiring through the local AP bureau.

    What I find curious is that you only tried once to contact the reporter before giving up, and then only via Twitter. I would never rely on Twitter for such a sensitive communication. Trying to fit what needs saying so delicately into 140 characters is suboptimal. And plenty of people don’t bother checking their Twitter account very often. I would have e-mailed him directly, then picked up the phone if that didn’t work.

    As a former editor with AP and The Seattle Times, I can assure you that most editors are keenly interested in mistakes made by their reporters, so I don’t see anything wrong with approaching the editor, Jannie Momberg, if you still get no response after e-mailing and leaving a voice mail with the reporter. Try to be more diplomatic in your phrasing with the editor than you were with the reporter. Present the facts, explain the truth, and request the editor’s help in getting the correct info either a revised article or a correction underneath it.

    IMO, baldly stating “You got the M&A story wrong” is an ineffective approach to the reporter. After staking such a position–one that puts the reporter in the wrong and you in the right–you can usually never hope to recover an effective working relationship with either the writer or his publication. If you never had one to begin with, of course, then you’re not risking much–unless you hope for continued (accurate) coverage.

    Rather than opening with a judgment bound to make the reporter defensive, I would approach the reporter with an inquiry, asking how he got the (mistaken) information that your client was subject to such attacks. If you seek to enlist his help in identifying a source of inaccurate information, so that you can then approach that third party to ensure it doesn’t happen again, you will be working *with* the reporter rather than scolding him. In the process, you will have the opportunity to explain the facts and request a clarification or correction. (BTW, some online-only outlets don’t print retractions, preferring simply to pull the entire article.)

    But having only attempted to reach the reporter via Twitter, I would urge you not to tell the client that you could not reach him. Don’t present this to the client as a done-deal, must-move-on situation without first trying to e-mail and phone the reporter. The client also will be impressed that you escalated the matter to the editor (if need be).

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