(Humor) It is well known by we Nerds that many journalists have demonstrated that they don't have the mental bandwidth to write about the web. This is an entertaining guide for reporters who want to write articles about the Internet and web related culture.
Someone emailed me this piece and I, Marc Perkel, liked it, so I converted it to HTLM. The original work was written June 15th 1995 by Peter Gutmann, from an original by Scot Stevenson. I don't know who these people are, but they are somewhere in New Zealand.
THE INTERNET: A short guide for reporters and journalists
Recently there have been a lot of reports about a generally insignificant aspect of the Internet, namely the availability of erotica and other information via computer. The reason for this is quite obvious - this is one of the hottest news topics currently available. People get upset, tempers fray, and Trevor Rogers gets to have his face in the paper again. In short, stories about the evil Internet are "in".
This document is intended as a guide for those who would like to join the ranks of the other reporters and journalists who have been so successful in the past when reporting about the Internet. It is intended to save you the hassle of having to reinvent the wheel when you prepare your report, and to familiarize you with certain conventions which need to be followed when reporting on anything to do with thnet. You'll be amazed at how simple it is.
WHY REPORTING ABOUT THE INTERNET IS USEFUL
The Internet provides fascinating subject material for reporters. There's no need to perform any research, you get to cover a "hot topic", and the message is so simple that even politicians can understand it (or at least know how to make political gain from it).
All successful stories on the Internet are based on the following fact:
Even while you were still at journalism school, you learned that sex sells. You also know that sex itself doesn't sell, but stories about "consumers" of sexual material do. This also provides you with an excuse to show pictures of naked women (purely to document what's available, of course) and yet still hold the moral high ground.
The Internet, like all communications networks, was designed solely to communicate pornographic images. Of course, the average user has absolutely no idea how to do this, or how to perform the complex decoding and image manipulation necessary to view these images. As a reporter, it is your duty to inform the public on how this is done. Our moral guardians will be appalled at how easily you can get access to the information, anyone with a computer will be busy trying to duplicate your feat, and everyone else will be too busy staring at the pictures to do anything else.
Make porn the main theme of your story. If you're doing a story on the Usenet, pick something with the name "sex" in it (even if it's a sexual abuse counseling service - if it has "sex" in the name it's got to be bad), and concentrate exclusively on that. Ignore the fact that there are over 11,000 other interest areas available on the Usenet. Don't even waste your time with them - all people ever talk about there is books, films, art, hobbies, cars, health, politics, financial issues, current events, religion, literature, and so on. Who on earth would read a story about that? Concentrate only on the stuff which pulls in the readers/viewers. Concentrate on porn.
Virtually any journalist will know that the majority of the population are somewhat technophobic. If you want to hold the readers attention, you can't go wrong when you use this fact to your advantage. Let's take a simple example:
The most important point, however, is that, due to the thorough work of your colleagues, the reader/viewer already has certain expectations for any story about the net. Whenever they hear the word "Internet", they immediately know what the coverage will be on: the dangers of computers, porn, pedophiles, and bomb recipes. Even if they remember nothing else, the viewers will know that porn was involved. Whenever any story about the Internet is published or broadcast, the viewers wil automatically expect it to babout porn, which makes your job so much easier.
Journalists are like fishermen, they select the appropriate bait depending on the intended prey. Although the usual collection of porn, pedophiles, and other paraphernalia without which no report on the net can be complete provide a wide foundation for virtually any kind of story you care to dream up, you can give your report that final polish by specifically targeting a particular group. For example:
Your readers/viewers will dislike the net anyway - just look at the people using it, these long-haired hippie wierdos, dole bludgers and students, should all go out and get a real job or something. You don't really need to cover this area too deeply. The best way to get your audience hooked is to tell them about the horrible perversions they can run into on the net. Just think, the person you're exchanging mail with could actually be a *screaming bender*, and you wouldn't even know about it! There are actually areas of the net where gay people can meet, and talk. Your audience *must* be informed of this dangerous technology. Your message is therefore:
As with a right-wing audience, you have an advantage here that your left-wing readers/viewers will be suspicious of the net because the government is involved with it. The Internet is simply a bridgehead for a nationwide police database, identity cards, and the spectre of Big Brother. Although it can be hard to introduce the usual morals panic into a story on general technophobia, we're sure you can do it. Your general message is therefore:
This, along with the nations moral guardians, is your ideal target audience. The Internet is run mostly by men and in the past has been used mostly by men. The mere existence of the evil Internet is therefore solely the fault of all males. Your message is therefore:
This is the perfect target audience. Your viewers/readers will be conservative, right-wing, and won't understand the technological and social issues involved. Tell them anything. Since you control the media, none will ever correct you (except perhaps a few long-haired hippies calling talkback shows, but who listens to talkback anyway?). If a 15-year-old runs away from home, they've been kidnapped by an Internet pedophile ring. Every time you turn on your computer, snuff movies appear on the screen. A shadowy gang of spies is hiding US nuclear weapons secrets inside dirty pictures and sending them to the middle east. There are more pedophiles on the net in the US than the population of some countries. The middle east has an appalling pedophiles-on-the-net problem, even though there is no Internet in the middle east. All these stories, and more, have already been run by your colleagues in and outside the country, or have been reported by politicians. If people will swallow this, they'll swallow anything. Although you have a pretty much blank slate on which to vent your creativity, extensive research has shown that you get the best results if you make your message more or less:
As with any story, there are a few traps you have to be careful to avoid.
There are certain topics you should never touch on in your reporting. These are:
No one cares about this. Your audience doesn't want to know about the technology, otherwise they'd have to actually think about the issues involved. And anyway, when did you become an engineer or sociologist? The best reports on the Internet are filed by reporters who refuse to even use a computer and have no idea what the Internet is, since they're the ones least likely to be hampered by any facts.
Never mention the fact that studies have shown that children who use the Internet spend less time in front of the TV, do better at school, have better writing skills, and are much more likely to get a job in the future. Scare them away from the Internet. We've got a welfare state, they'll be looked after in some way. Besides, you'll be able to do more stories on future street kids that way.
If you find out that the President of the United States is on the Internet, don't even think about suggesting the Prime Minister does the same. Politics and computers just don't mix, as has been shown repeatedly by one ex-National Party politician. Even if the President talks to his staff via email, and they all run around with laptops, that's just an American fad. New Zealanders don't need that sort of thing.
Always call it "the Internet", whether what you're reporting on occurred on the Internet, a private network, a standalone computer, or in your imagination. If necessary, edit the pictures you show to support your story. When people hear a computer horror story, they expect it to be about the Internet, not based on something you saw last night on X-Files.
As a reporter, you've become accustomed to having your say while everyone else listens. On the Internet, this is very different. When one of your masterpieces of creative reporting is published or broadcast, a potential audience of thirty million people will pick it to pieces. With a single story, you can alienate fifty, a hundred thousand members of your audience in one stroke. Never use the Internet yourself, or publish any form of email address. You're not paid to handle feedback, only to write stories. Heavens, if you listened to people correcting your story, you might actually have to report the truth!
Therefore, write whatever you want, but never give your readers a chance to reply. By the time NZ Post has finally delivered their mail to you, you'll already be halfway through your next report on baby-eating pedophiles on the net, and can safely ignore any feedback from the previous one.
A LAST PLEA TO JOURNALISTS
Horror stories about the Internet have already helped hundreds of your colleagues through dry spells in the flow of news. Make sure you preserve this valuable resource for future generations of journalists. Don't report more than you need to. A short, zero-content missive in which you mention the word "pedophiles" in every second sentence is fine, as has been ably demonstratedy Trevor Rogers. The Internet is a wonderful source of stories for any journalist or reporter who has a deadline in a few hours and nothing else they can report on. You can report virtually anything without needing to do any research or acquire any background information. Therefore the *real* purpose of the Internet can finally be revealed:
The Internet is a piece of high-technology whose single goal is to allow reporters, at the expense of the truth, to grab the headlines for a day or two with an absolutely minimal investment in time and effort.
We hope to have made your job as a reporter easier through this simple guide. Good luck, and remember, as long as you use the magic words "pedophile", "porn", and "protecting the children" as often as possible, you can get away with anything.