Monday, November 01, 2004

Advertiser Make-Good Fiber Article

The Advertiser this morning publishes what is surely a make-good article, Fiber optics study to go before council. The alert reader will note that the text of the article has nothing to do with the feasibility study going before the council; the only reference to that event lies in having the time and location tacked on in the final paragraphs. The only sense in which the story has to do with going before the council is that it corrects misconceptions fostered by the Advertiser about fiber optic networks that need to be cleared up before the study is to go before the council.

The meat of the article is aimed directly at correcting any reader misconceptions about the practical differences between triple play packages offered over fiber optic networks and hybrid coaxial or hybrid twisted pair networks.

How might readers get such misconceptions, you may wonder? Why from the Advertiser, of course. You might want to take a look yesterday's article, Consumers still guessing about fiber-optic costs, and my response to see why today's article was considered necessary. I have no doubt the editor got a very discomfitting call from LUS yesterday and that today's article is the result.

This story gets the technicals right. The differences between fully fiber and hybrid systems are explained and some of the consequences made clear. The Advertiser still misses the boat a little by continuing to leave the impression that both Cox and BellSouth have concrete plans to upgrade their systems in Lafayette to bring fiber closer to the home and by introducing the pernicuous idea that hybrid systems are somehow also fiber optic systems. It isn't so and reporters ought not fall for corporate spin so easily. The truth is that neither Cox nor BellSouth has upgraded its system recently and that neither has announced concrete plans to move fiber closer to the home in Lafayette. The corprorations' physical networks haven't changed over the last year and no plan is visible to upgrade them. If they had or if the plans were real we would certainly have heard it trumpeted from the rooftops. All that has changed is that the companies are offering new services over their increasingly constrained networks. And the Advertiser really should be able to understand this basic fact-on-the-ground and not pass on corporate spin.

This is the first technically oriented piece in any local media; the first article to try and explain, outside of the context of breaking news, any technical issue. That is a good thing. It's just too bad that it ony occurs as a make-good story.

A final complaint and then I will try and leave it alone: the problem with yesterday's article needs to be acknowledged by the Advertiser. "Fixing" the problem without acknowledging it is gutless and abuses the Advertiser's effective monopoly of daily print media. Without competitors to point out your mistakes a responsible stance would be to be fastidious about acknowledging your mistakes. But this is not the way the Advertiser has chosen to operate and the public suffers for it. This joins recent problems with the Advertisers online polls being corrupted--you will notice that they have been pulled without public explanation--and with Saturday's censorship of Doonesbury's biting political satire aimed at the Advertiser-endorsed presidential candidate--which was also pulled off without notice or public explanation.

The Advertiser needs to recognize its responsibility to the public to acknowledge its failings. Not only because it is the right thing to do (though that should be sufficient) but also for its own sake. Do stuff like this often enough and people begin to lose trust in you. I am begining to wonder what I miss.... What other mistakes has the Advertiser hidden?

You know, somewhere down the line that sort of reasoning results in less ad revenue for Gannett. And that, at least, is something the Advertiser seems to understand it should avoid.

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