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Careers In Linux Journalism-- No Knowledge Required!

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I've not ranted very much about this in the past because I'm chicken-- I'm afraid that if I start pointing fingers at the shortcomings of other journalists and tech writers, they will poke back at me. But there comes a time when a person has to grow a spine and start pointing. So I am pointing at all the alleged journalists, reporters, and so-called analysts who write about Linux and FOSS when they don't know one single blinking thing about it. What is it with people? It's shameful enough to spend years on the same beat without broadening their knowledge the slightest bit, and it's worse when they pontificate as though they actually know something.

I think that anyone in tech these days, whether they are reporters, analysts, support techs, developers, designers, system and network administrators, architects, CTOs, or whatever title they care to have, should be learning about Linux and FOSS, and anyone that doesn't isn't worth a paycheck. It's easier than it's ever been-- surely we are all familiar with the Internet? Is there anyone who can't lay their hands on a Linux LiveCD or USB stick? Any of the BSDs, OpenSolaris? There is a feast, a wealth of knowledge and help out there for anyone with the strength to click a mouse. It doesn't get any easier.

Starving At The Banquet

So why, with all of this incredible wealth literally at our fingertips, do we still see dumb stuff like "Linux is too hard and you have to compile from sources" and "It's less secure because it's open", and "Windows has 98% market share" without doing the slightest bit of fact-checking, and without differentiating between different market segments such as server, cluster, embedded, desktop, and so forth; and how can anyone who calls him or herself a tech reporter this far into the new millennium, two thousand freaking oh nine, not have a grasp of even the most basic facts about Free/Open Source Software and Linux?

My current favorite horrid example is Dana Blankenhorn's famous "someone please send a Linux laptop" column, written in July 2008:

"I have written about, and been written to about, Linux laptops for some time. Now is a good time to take the plunge. So I am asking for a review unit. "

How can one craft any sort of response other than WTF??! But let us not be hasty. The Internet is already full of hasty, kneejerk flamers and uninformed pontificators, and we do not want to be like them. Perhaps there is more to this story, so let us make use of the very secret weapon that nobody in tech journalism knows about: Google. I've been reading Mr. Blankenhorn's column for some years, and between my cluttered old memory and Google I do not find any indication that he had ever actually touched a Linux PC until September 2008:

"My first Linux laptop is the ASUS EeePC."

Be still my heart.

Preston Gralla, famous Windows author, wrote a good article about his first serious Linux experience Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows. But again, WTF??! Another technology writer who has been writing about Linux for years without knowing anything about it:

"Now, I recognize that a few hours of using desktop Linux isn’t a true test drive. But if you want someone to throw over their habits of a more than a dozen years, you’ve got to wow them right away. And Linux didn’t do that for me."

Like, heavy, man. This doesn't even rise to piffle-- it's piffle lite.

Blogging vs. "Real" Journalism

A sadly large number of professional writers draw a wide line between blogging and "real" writing. They think that blogs can be shoddy, hasty, and uninformed; "real" articles must meet higher standards. How wonderful to have such a handy excuse, even though it overlooks the fact that many of the "real" articles are also shoddy, hasty, and uninformed. I don't accept that there is a difference, especially in this era of everything-is-a-blog. Readers won't make that distinction, and they shouldn't-- when a (supposed) professional publishes anything that pertains to their (alleged) area of expertise, there is no difference between blogs and "real" articles.

To me it is nearly criminal to waste readers' time and the wonderful resources available to us on the Internet with shallow drivel. You know the saying-- "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." In the olden days it was an expensive, difficult proposition to make yourself heard. Now the barrier to entry is so low that anyone with an Internet connection has an equal chance to be heard. What a wonderful gift! How horrible to waste it.

Hall of Fame

I could cite many more horrid examples, and I know you can too. But rather than doing that, even though it would be fun and easy, I am going to make a list of some of my favorite tech authors. This is not a complete list, so don't have hurt feelings if I don't include you-- feel free to nominate yourself, or anyone else you think is worthy.

And of course I think I am one super-duper howto author and not too bad at analysis, but I'm too modest to say it. So who do you rely on for good Linux news, howtos, and analysis?


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