- Fake news is a big topic currently in the conventional media, however, it is undiscussed in IT media.
- IT media is highly controlled by industry sources, and in this article, we explain how.
In the US we are having a debate in the US over what is fake news, what is real, etc..with respect to political coverage.
This is in some part due to the election of Trump, current questions around the evidence for Russians hacking of the Democratic National Committee and how media outlets have aligned on this story. However, this is more of the outcome of the problem. The more fundamental reason is the erosion of the quality of news and investigation at a time. This has been due to companies like Google and Facebook have to take so much money out of the media system.
The new market dynamic has forced the original content generators to chase clicks and reduce accuracy to increase speed to market and increase sensationalism to survive. This is a massive change in informational media. No one is quite sure what type of media system we will finally end up with, but the early results from all of these changes are not encouraging. According to Gallup polling, the US trust in the mass media is at an all-time low.
What Gives Brightwork, are You Getting Political on Us?
As a researcher who works in IT and analyzes IT media output, why am I bringing this up? Well, it occurred to me the contrast between the conversations we are having with US political media output, versus the silence on the topic of the quality of the IT media output.
To appreciate the modern state of the IT media sub-industry let us observe some of its defining characteristics. I have covered these topics in other articles so that each bullet point will be just a short synopsis. For a detailed analysis of each bullet point, see the link. But do open the articles in a new tab or window, because this article builds a new point on these foundations.
IT Media Censorship
Most of the material you get in IT media is promotional in some way, and contradictory information is not part of the equation. The information that is released by the newsmakers, which is primarily the large software vendors and the large consulting companies is designed to increases sales. Because of this, the real story does not get out. I researched for the book the history of ERP implementations. The research showed outcomes that were significantly inconsistent with the press coverage and the published information on ERP by consulting companies and ERP vendors. There was very little information available which contradicted what are known fallacies — such as “everyone must have an ERP system.”
IT Media Bias
When the topic of bias is discussed, it usually is used to describe the largest media outlets. And often the most important type of media bias, which is financial, is often left off the table. However, of all the potential biases that a person can have, the source of their income is most likely the most powerful. Examples of this media bias are as follows:
- Advertizing: Studies have shown that advertising has powerful effects on media output. For example, those publications that took tobacco advertising in the 1950’s through the 1990’s tended not to publish articles that provided the true information about the dangers of tobacco. The largest entities advertise in the major IT media entities like CIO Magazine for instance.
- Consultants: The companies and people that know software the best are the software companies and implementors. These are the same companies and people with a bias to promote their products in the market. You will never be successful convincing someone that a process, product or service is of low quality or uncompetitive if that person makes their living from that process, product or service.
IT media bias is an issue that is amazingly little discussed of IT media, but entirely obvious once a serious analysis is performed. In fact, IT media bias is undeniable.
Undeclared Financial Relationships to Industry
In journalism and research, one is supposed to declare if they receive money from the entities which they cover. However, companies like Forrester and Gartner never declare their financial relationships. When Gartner releases its Magic Quadrant, which is the most influential software selection tool they never declare who they received money from that they have included in the quadrant. Forget to know the specifics; you can’t even find any information published on software vendor financial contributions anywhere on Gartner’s website. They also do not have any published methodology. Knowing this is true, why would anyone listen to what Gartner has to say, much less pay them the massive premium that they do for Gartner? Think for a moment if you happen to be a Gartner supporter.
Let us say Gartner wanted to cash in on their brand name and current customer base and use the money to extract the maximum amount of money from software vendors. How would you catch them? You can’t review their methodology to check for consistency. You can’t find who the contributors are on their website. The idea of the ombudsman? How can you verify what the results are from software vendors that complain about their placement in Gartners publications? All of the ombudsman’s actions are private. You have no way of confirming that Gartner is not trading ratings for financial contributions.
Bought research publications is a tremendous problem in the US.
Since the 1970s in the US, there has been a gigantic growth in industry-funded think tanks. These entities hide their sources of income and publish industry sponsored biased information while pretending to follow the rules of academic publication. They publish, distribute and serve as guest hosts on radio and television programs posing as independent commentators, but distributing fake research to the mainstream media.
The Hoover Institute is one example of these. The Hoover Institute sits on the Stanford University campus and is primarily funded by large multinationals. You can read it’s jerry-rigged analysis at their website. The Hoover Institutes publication output is so idiotic; I sometimes imagine that the entity is some hoax. But it is no joke.
One of the Hoover Institute’s pet issues is bringing “democracy” to Iran. Why do they publish about bringing democracy to Iran you might ask? Because of the care about Iranians? Unfortunately no. According to the official storyline the primary way the US brings democracy to other countries is by bombing them to smithereens. It goes something like this.
- Some Leader in Another Country is Bad
- The US Cares Enough About that Country to Bomb it
- After Being Bombed the Country Becomes Democratic
How Funding Drives Media Output at Fake Research Entities
The Bechtel Corporation and other Hoover Institute funders receive the construction contracts to rebuild destroyed infrastructure and other associated military expenditures. I would imagine Bechtel and other place their funding of Hoover under the Marketing Expense account.
If an entity’s research can be traced to your funding sources, and if it does not declare those sources, then that entity has a credibility problem. If it has Donald Rumsfeld on its staff as a visiting scholar, then that is not doing it’s credibility any favors either.
But the problem that is bigger than Hoover or Gartner is that all research requires funding. And companies that violate research rule do far better than those that uphold the rules. Because violating the rules is profit maximizing.
Industry Press Releases
When SAP or some other large vendor has a media day and releases messaging to IT media, how often do they test the claims by asking experts in industry or in academia that are not associated with the software vendor? How often do you see the journalist push back on the vendor and state that the vendor’s statement is not likely to happen or probably is not true? Why is it that I can trace SAP talking points that were uncritically examined all the way through the SAP-sponsored Forrester report on the TCO of HANA?
Major Media Versus IT Media
I believe that the current debate on the independence of big media that covers politics is quite positive. However, why do we ignore far more extreme failures in the IT media? Why are the IT media except from criticism simply because they don’t provide political coverage?
CNN is an outlet that has many critics. The network extended a story about an airliner that crashed for weeks, building up the concept of the missing aircraft into some big mystery, when it is obvious that the most likely outcome from reviewing its flight path before it disappeared was that it crashed into the ocean and its wreckage could not be found. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that CNN did this for ratings. Whatever one’s opinion of CNN, I can’t think of a single major IT media outlet or IT analyst (although I can think of a few small ones) that can come within striking distance of journalistic standards followed by CNN. There is barely a whisper about the problems with IT media.
We have the major IT outlets and analysts directly on the payroll of vendors and consulting companies, and no one says much about that.
The problem IT media, as with the general media is funding. But with IT media the problem is particularly pronounced because precious few IT media outlets follow any conflict of interest rules. If we have a system that is rigged behind the scenes, then the largest players will always come out on top, regardless of what is true. This is because the big players have the bankroll to pay off whoever they need to. These payoffs can be in the form of advertising, “vendor services” (ahem…..Gartner), yearly contributions, etc.. The point is they create a media bias in the media outlet. And if CIO Magazine or ZDNet or Gartner wanted to follow the conflict of interest rules and disclosure requirements what would happen to their business model.
It would decline.
I can say with confidence that Gartner, whose entire business model is based on violating journalistic and research integrity rules their market value would take a swift nose five. Executives are not given jobs so they can “do the right thing,” when doing the right thing will collapse the company’s valuation. When the IT market is dominated by great wealth concentration in the form of consulting software vendors and consulting companies, one can expect media entities to produce output that meets the specifications of those that paid for it.