You can fool some of the editors some of the time

Last week, a number of editors here at IT Business received a pitch from a PRfirm representing a certain software behemoth. The sender was trying to interest us in covering three school boards that had flirted with open source software but wisely – according to the very clear message in the

pitch — concluded that it was too costly and complex to support. Not so surprisingly, considering the firm making the pitch represents Microsoft, they chose Microsoft platforms instead.

The summary of the case study for each of these school districts provided some insights into why each chose not to go with open source. For example, one asked Microsoft – yes, the fox guarding the henhouse, you might note — to conduct a Gartner total cost of ownership study, which found the organization would save more than $2 million a year by moving to a unified Microsoft platform with Active Directory.

Another district was having headaches managing the mix of open source and
commercial software.

For an IT reporter who covers the public sector, and who is aware of the growing interest in open source software in the government, this might have been a compelling story idea. There is a huge amount of hype around open source, some of it probably justified and some of it probably not.

But any potential interest piqued by the pitch was quashed by the subject line, which read, “Passing the Grade: The pros and cons of open source and commercial software in the Canadian school system.”

The trouble is, there were no pros related to the use of open source software hinted at in the pitch, not even one to give it the appearance of a balanced approach to the issue. The same day we received the pitch, ironically enough, Jim Romanesko, (whose Obscurestore site (www.obscurestore.typepad.com) I read religiously, mostly for my daily dose of all around weirdness), had wholeheartedly endorsed Laura Penny’s Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullsh*t. Penny, a Canadian writer/scholar, tells us there’s not much about our daily lives that isn’t, to put it politely, fabricated cow manure.

It’s not that there is necessarily more untruth out there today than at some distant, romanticized time in the past, she says – or maybe there is, come to think of it – but that we have increased our capacity by about a gazillionfold to turn what was once on the scale of an irritating sniffle into a full-blown global pandemic.

Journalists like myself have a role to play, I admit. Often – OK, almost always — instead of taking the time to ferret out a broader picture of the experiences that users have had with vendors we settle for the user supplied to us by the vendor’s PR firm.

And for the most part, as Penny notes, we have all become so apparently immune to the way lies have permeated our entire lives that all of us, especially in the IT industry, have ceased to make even the most minor attempts to rail against it.

But one has to draw the line somewhere, and this is that line. We’re aware that it’s up to us to tell both sides of a story, and that PR firms tend to focus on only one. If you’re going to feign objectivity, please make it a good one.

ksibley@itbusiness.ca

Kathleen Sibley is the editor of Technology in Government.

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