Covering the Reiser Trial

The trial of Hans Reiser for the alleged murder of his estranged wife Nina Reiser has two significant factors that make this event unique in my tenure at Linux Today. Which, I must admit, has made it more difficult to decide on how much coverage LT will devote to the trial’s proceedings.

Difficult, but not impossible.

The first unique aspect of this case is that this is the first time I have ever known someone (albeit casually) who was accused of a crime of this magnitude. I have met the acquitted and the convicted, but always either during or after the trial in question. In this case, I had already met Hans Reiser, while we were both attending the 2005 SCALE conference in Los Angeles.

It was a casual meet-up, yakking over dinner and then breakfast the next day with a slew of other attendees at the same table. You know the kind: a bunch of geeks sit down to eat and end up forming a bull session. In those two encounters, I did what most journalists have the bad habit of doing, myself included: I categorized him. (We do this because we’re constantly sizing up people as a potential source of information, either now or later on.)

My categorization was brief: scary smart, not someone to pal around with. This last was more of a personal addendum: I know the types of personalities with which I can mesh, and honestly Reiser’s wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t rude or anything, but I could tell that our personal agendas would probably clash if we ever had a one-on-one conversation. No big deal, since I know not everyone can get along with me, either.

But because of this brief encounter, I was led to the second unique part of this coverage: this particular set of events marks the first and only time in my tenure at LT that I have consulted with my boss about running a story on the site. When the story first broke last year, I ran though the decision tree on whether LT should cover it. This was made harder by the fact that none of the other news sites seemed to have picked it up yet. Reiser was a player in the Linux/OSS development arena, but was coverage of a personal crisis (he had not been formally charged yet) warranted?

After consulting with my supervisor, we came to the conclusion that Reiser is indeed a public figure in the Linux community, and therefore coverage of the missing spouse was warranted. After the criminal charges were filed, the question of coverage became moot.

The reason I share these two personal and professional aspects of this story is to address some of the comments I have gotten about covering the Reiser trial. Many of you are decrying it as muckraking and unrelated to Linux. The first, in some instances, I will grant you; the second point is simply untrue. Whether you use it or not, the Reiser4 filesystem is a well-used piece of software in Linux, and the trial of its creator is news.

Thus, Linux Today is going to continue to cover the trial. Not on a daily basis. If you want daily coverage, visit the Threat Level blog over on Wired. LT will link to this blog or other media stories about the Reiser trial when key events occur, as I feel is warranted. For those that still object to this coverage, I simply suggest you not click on the stories and move on to the next story of interest. We will not, at any time, link to any opinion stories about the outcome of the trial.

That, as always, is up to the jury.