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IPG to Forbes Magazine: Wake Up, People

[I've belonged to IPG for, I don't know, years now, since right at the end of my gig as the Internet Librarian columnist for American Libraries. Not only does this letter dress down Forbes Magazine for egregious writing, it's an account-by-proxy of a larger press travesty, the drubbing of Pamela Jones, whose blog, Groklaw, is considered by many a "excellent resource for those looking for a well-maintained and comprehensive guide to what's going on day-to-day surrounding the SCO controversy."]

THE INTERNET PRESS GUILD
40 Sourwood Drive, Arden, NC 28704

Steve Forbes
Forbes Magazine
60 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Phone (800) 295-0893

AN OPEN LETTER TO FORBES MAGAZINE

As members of the Internet Press Guild, an organization of approximately 80 writers and editors covering technology, founded in 1996, we view with some alarm the recent publication of a highly inaccurate article, “Attack of the Blogs” in your magazine.

We wish particularly to express concern over the sidebar article which lays out a road map for legal harassment and smear tactics to be used against bloggers who report critically on corporate activities. The dividing line between journalists and bloggers is a hazy one. We would think that Forbes would be the first to agree that the ability of journalists (online or print) to report on the behavior of companies without fear of reprisal is a cornerstone of the First Amendment.

There are perfectly adequate outlets for wronged parties to address negligent reporting, through libel law. This sidebar is a blueprint for corporations and private individuals to intimidate reporters and damage the investigative press that the American public depends on. While there may very well be a good story on blogging and how corporations should respond to negative blogging, this was not it.

In addition, in the article several statements are made in regards to Pamela Jones, a paralegal, journalist, and member of the IPG; her Web site Groklaw, a technology and legal news blog; and the actions of a journalist named Maureen O’Gara.

Some facts, which were publicly available, were omitted in the story or given a different connotation that misleads the readers. For example,

1) “Bloggers all but got O’Gara fired.” In point of fact, the parties lobbying most heavily for the termination of her contract were not bloggers, but the editors of Sys-Con’s own LinuxWorld Magazine. And the statement is doubly inaccurate, because bloggers couldn’t have gotten O’Gara “fired,” since she was not an employee of Sys-Con Media. She was a freelancer, and a blogger herself.

2) The story also omits such aspects of O’Gara’s reporting, which caused the editors to ask for her contract’s termination.

These included such stalking behavior as describing the interior of Jones’ alleged apartment, publishing photographs of the exterior of her and her mother’s alleged dwellings, casting aspersions on Jones’ religious beliefs and referring to Ms. Jones in inflammatory terms such as ‘a harridan’. Is it any wonder that the Sys-Con editors were concerned with being associated with this type of yellow journalism?

3) In addition, O’Gara, who is praised in this article, has a track record of poor reporting which had caused other Sys-Con editors to long complain about the caliber of O’Gara’s work. In fact, in the fall of 2004, the editors of LinuxWorld Magazine had taken the unusual step of publically distancing themselves from O’Gara in an open letter to the readership of the magazine.

4) The article also alleges that hackers took down the site, and cites a heavily inflated damage figure provided by the owner of Sys-Con Media as fact.

In reality, no hard evidence has ever been presented for an organized
attack on the Sys-Con web sites. A much more plausible explanation is available: that the sites went down under the load of people seeking out the original article.

The story further implies that Jones either organized or condoned a denial of service attack. There is not a shred of evidence for these charges.

5) The story also implies that Pamela Jones thanked a group of hackers for forcing O’Gara out, In fact, in the example cited, she was thanking the LinuxWorld Magazine editors for standing up to O’Gara and showing appropriate journalistic ethics.

6) The story also fails to mention that in the opinion of the Society of Professional Journalists ethics committee, O’Gara had been guilty of numerous ethical breaches in her reporting.

According to Fred Brown, co-chair of the SPJ Ethics Committee, “That piece by O’Gara definitely is outside the norms of good journalism. It’s bullying, insulting and harassing, and I, for one, really don’t get the point of it.”

Far from O’Gara being an “intrepid reporter,” her willful invasion of privacy and persecutorial reporting style deserved condemnation rather than praise.

7) The article also inaccurately states that O’Gara got Ms. Jones’ phone number from the court in Nevada. According to Ms. O’Gara’s own writing, she got it from a journalist:

“See, even though Groklaw treats cell phones like they were Kleenex and changes its unpublished numbers regularly, one number it left with a journalist led to this flat and – wouldn’t you know it but – some calls from there had been placed to the courts in Utah and to the Canopy Group so obviously this just isn’t any Pamela Jones.”

Therefore, we are very concerned with this extremely one-sided and misleading portrayal of events. This is not the level of journalism we have grown to expect from Forbes.

We hope Forbes Magazine will take actions to improve editorial oversight of its product to prevent such poor articles from appearing in the future. Articles such as this one can only harm the image of Forbes in particular and the entire journalistic community in general, and are certainly not representative of the high standards we all strive for in our work.

Signed,

Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier (jzb@zonker.net): Editorial Director, Linux.com.

Daniel P. Dern (dern@pair.com): freelance technology writer

Dennis Fowler (dennisf6@localnet.com): Founding member IPG; Department Editor, NetNews, netWorker magazine, ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery.

Scott M. Fulton, III: Senior Partner, Ingenus editorial services

Sean Gallagher: Executive Editor, Enterprise/Vertical sites, Ziff-Davis Internet

Rishab Aiyer Ghosh: International Editor, First Monday

Angela Gunn (herself@agunn.com): Co-host, PC World’s Digital Duo

Nettie Hartsock (nettie.hartsock@gmail.com): Writer

Dee-Ann LeBlanc: Award-winning technical journalist; Linux Games Editor, Linux Journal; Desktop Editor, LinuxPlanet.com.

Lisa Nadile: Writer

Lawrence Nyveen: Editor, Netsurfer Digest

Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller: Editor in Chief, Open Source Technology Group
Jason Perlow: Sr. Contributing Editor, Linux Magazine

Brian Proffitt (bproffitt@jupitermedia.com): Managing Editor, Linux Today/LinuxPlanet

Oliver Rist: Senior Contributing Editor, InfoWorld

Dan Rosenbaum: Editor, fireEMS; former editor, NetGuide

Laurie Rowell: Writer

Karen G. Schneider: Contributing author, ALA Techsource; Blogger, Free Range Librarian

James M. Turner (turner@blackbear.com): Products Editor, Linux Journal; Senior Contributing Editor, Linux Planet

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (Steven_Vaughan-Nichols@ziffdavis.com): Senior
Editor, Ziff Davis Internet; board member, LinuxWorld Advisory Board;
and chairman, Internet Press Guild.

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