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Friday, December 8th, 2006, 3:55 am

Spurring Open Source Journalism – Giving It a Concrete Case

Opacity in organisations hinders journalism that relies on transparency. The significance of this is best demonstared using a timely example. If you have been following the news recently, you probably heard about Microsoft taking a stand against Open Source software. Shortly after its partnership with Novell it is claiming patent infringement. The parallel to Open Source journalism is subtle, but nonetheless it’s there, provided one bothers to look closely enough.

One aspect of similarity, as well as a nice analogy, would be in a case of plagiarism — which either does or does not happen. There is no in-between. As long as plagiarism doesn’t occur, an Open Source Journalism organisation can cover the same topics as a traditional newspaper (just as there are always a million versions of every story). Nevertheless, there are subtitles in this technical case that involves Microsoft, its allies and its rivals — and there is just one truthful way to approach all of this. If anything it shows that Open Source projects have a community of people who believe strongly in their right to share collective knowledge without being attacked by so-called ‘soft patents’, which are independent from rendition or implementation.

Let us look at another interesting angle for a change. One issue that is commonly overlooked by reporters is the validity of Microsoft’s allegations, as well as intent. The traditional media can be easily (mis)led by the agenda of a company (Microsoft in this case), and particularly its press conferences and faceoff with the shareholders. There is sheer bias in these, whilst the truth (which is properly isolated from fear, uncertainty and doubt tactics) resides in the minds of people who are experts in the field and are equipped with contextual knowledge, including corporate history.

Man and his dogRed Hat, which is the main sufferer in this case due to the scale of its success with Open Source software, has been fighting articles which, much to Microsoft’s satisfaction, make it seem like Microsoft wants interoperation (a benevolent move) while Red Hat declines. The reality is that Microsoft’s proposal is extremely hostile and yet it’s hidden behind a straight face (or a smiling crocodile that will later shed a tear). The reality is that the media is being fooled while only the ‘little people’ know the truth which is concealed, deeply buried below this announcement. Red Hat can only publish rebuttals on its Web site, or get blogs to advertise the truth. It’s grip on press releases is mere compared to that of the software giant. Titans can overwhelm the press with their own ‘truths’. Microsoft seeks to pass on a death knell, which has already plagued Novell, due to its recent partnership with Microsoft.

I was told that one of Jay Rosen’s punchlines is: “NewAssignment.Net will write about stories the regular news media didn’t do, can’t do, wouldn’t do or already screwed up.” I hereby contend that the coverage of this particular story serves as an excellent case study. It demonstrates that behind all the public talk there is a mental games which is sadly overlooked by mainstream media. Thus, it simply fails to reach those who will not investigate for themselves, read between the lines, or rely on technocrats who clarify what truly goes on, as described by Matthew (list of FUD-type announcements from Microsoft), among many others across the blogsphere.

News outlets are controlled or at least motivated by companies, so there’s a conundrum of ownership where finance serves as a principal factor. That worrisome residue of publication channels must be combatted. Some of the most ‘successful’ articles, as judged by readship, are inflammatory or extreme in view. They provoke. Does it necessarily make them beneficial to the reader? Are they informative or downright deceiving? People’s well-informed opinions and choices can get past announcements which hide the truth in order to save face. Sometime, one would argue, the bigger picture is entirely missed because only ‘little people’ have the knowledge — but it’s hard to get the message out. But pooling the knowledge together is an answer — RedHat can’t pull this off because they pool knowledge together around software. A paradigm that aligns with that of NewAssignment.Net will hopefully be able to elevate the vote and voice of the masses. The goal is to pool knowledge around just that — times when media spun stories are off the mark.

In summary, Open Source journalism is an area that could help — in this case fight off the misconceptions about Open Source software. It can extract the message and knowledge from people that have no commercial interests or hidden agendas. This particular discussion tends to be both litigious and technical, so it requires the joining of the minds from both fields. It empowers the eventual, polished product.

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