In Praise of Journalistic Scum


I've written glowingly about the Linux Foundation's interview series, which has included Linus Torvalds and Mark Shuttleworth. Because they're conducted by the Linux Foundation's own Jim Zemlin, they have the benefit of ready and prolonged access to the top people in the open source world.

But there's also a big downside to this approach, as the latest interview shows. It's with Ron Hovsepian, the CEO of Novell. Reading the transcript, I found myself constantly wondering when Hovsepian was going to say something new or, well, interesting. Instead, what we got were a series of marketing platitudes.

And then I realised what the problem was. The name “Microsoft” occurs just three times in the whole interview, which runs to many thousands of words. And none of those instances refers to the Microsoft-Novell deal that has proved so divisive in the open source world.

Now, I fully understand why Zemlin moved gingerly around this topic: it's deeply problematic for Hovsepian, and he is understandably unwilling to explore its deleterious effects on the free software community. Equally, Zemlin is naturally unwilling to put important open source figures like Hovsepian on the spot since this will make his job much harder in the future.

This is where cynical journalists like me come in. We have no compunction in sticking the interrogatory knife in to interviewees and twisting when we find the pain point.

That's why, to be frank, interviews are best carried out by those who do not have business relationships with their victims/subjects. I'm sure the Linux Foundation interviews will continue to provide fascinating insights into the thoughts of many open source leaders, but clearly the format is only really going to work with the community's chums.

Those whose position in the free software world is more ambivalent – like Microsoft's little helper Hovsepian – are best left to scum like me.

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